For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
September 17, 2003 - Politeness
Some years ago now, there were two ministers living on my cul de sac. One minister worked for a fairly liberal Christian church. Another was the pastor of a more conservative, evangelical congregation. Each of them had a daughter about the same age as Maddy, who was then about 4 years old.
One day, while I was washing the dishes, I heard the three girls playing together. Then I heard the daughter of the conservative minister begin talking about Jesus. The daughter of the liberal minister chimed in. After they chatted for awhile, finally, one of them turned to my daughter, a little exasperated.
"What do YOUR parents believe?" she asked.
Maddy said, "My parents believe..." and I all but fell out the window trying to catch this, "in being polite."
I grinned for days.
I'm not one of those people who believe that everything is getting worse in America. I see many things to celebrate in our culture.
But that isn't to say that I see no problems at all. The one that bothers me most is what seems to me a growing tendency, especially in the political world, but elsewhere as well, to mistake rudeness for cleverness.
It's also true that I meet so many genuinely accomplished people who seem to me best characterized by a profound courtesy. They are slow to take offense, and slow to give it. They are inclined to give other people the benefit of the doubt.
They may disagree with someone else's opinion. But they have learned to be pleasant about it. They have learned to separate an opinion from the person expressing it.
I'm addicted to reading letters to the editor, and I'm alternately aghast or amused by the frequency with which people simply attack the motives or intelligence of someone, and believe they have somehow made a point.
This is the fallacy of "ad hominem" -- attacking the man, instead of attacking the argument. When people do that, they lose my respect twice: first, for being rude, and second, for dodging the real question or questions.
A 2002 study by the PEW Charitable Trusts called "Aggravating Circumstances," found that some 79% of the American public believes that lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem for our society and we should try to address it. While some feel that we've made progress with minorities and the disabled, many feel that in other areas, we've gotten significantly worse.
Here's a telling statistic: some 41% of the survey respondents said that they were themselves rude and disrespectful in public, and it bothered them a lot.
Recently, I re-read a book in my personal library: Robert Heinleinís "Friday." In it, one Dr. Hartley M. Baldwin said something that I've been thinking about ever since.
"Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms .... but a DYING culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot."