When did we stop being nice to each other? When did it become OK to turn a disagreement into an insult?
For a long time, I thought the problem was the internet – the anonymity, the ability to make comments to someone without having to witness the affect those statements might have on someone else. And, it is true. The digital age has, at least in part, ushered in an era where civility and kindness can sometimes take a backseat to the power of an individual’s personality, their right to free speech or their commitment to “telling the truth.”
I’m not saying people don’t have a right to express their opinion or that fact should be supplanted by fiction in the name of kindness. Unfortunately, however, that’s really not what happens in a lot of cases, is it? In the name of these things – such a lofty ambition, actually – it’s become commonplace for rumor to be called “fact” and for nastiness to be considered “truth.”
It’s not just here, of course. If anything, this presidential election has brought out what I consider to be some of the worst behavior I’ve ever witnessed. Putting the candidates themselves aside (and, let’s face it, the problem starts there in a couple of pointed cases), some political supporters use their presence on social media as a weapon. They’re not there to debate or convince; they want to insult, to wound. Calling people who don’t agree with you “stupid,” insulting plays on names, vulgarities – none of these engender an open discussion or a chance to perhaps illuminate someone to your point of view. I can’t believe anyone would believe they would, and I don’t think that’s their intent.
Candidates and talking media heads speak about how “angry” people are. Is it anger or is it fear? Is it both? Because there must be something for people – many of whom so openly discuss their Christian beliefs – to then, seemingly at a drop of a hat, express such hatred for someone based on an opposing political stance or way of life.
Sadly, the media is as guilty as anyone – maybe even more – of this. And, we should know better. While it’s our job to report and allow our audience to come to their own conclusions, too many times this isn’t the case. Either through blatantly biased or selective coverage, the “truth” is skewed because it is rumor, not fact, being presented – although that is not obvious. Even in the editorial pages, “journalists” abuse their platform by taking potshots at others. How is it professional to basically call a public official “asinine?” I may not agree with that person’s views, but who am I to call names? And, how does that help my readership – or anyone else, for that matter?
I’m not suggesting we all sit around the campfire singing “Kumbaya,” but there has to be something different, some way better, we can express our opinions. Whether it’s someone we don’t even know on Facebook, a friend of a different political persuasion or a public official, it is not right to belittle or demean someone, no matter how much we might disagree with them.
There is a lot of talk about our rights – to bear arms, to free speech, to worship. Yet, many of the abusive statements I read, expressed in the name of “freedom,” actually tread on others’ freedoms, by bullying that person into either capitulating to a certain viewpoint or just walking away. I absolutely believe in the rights granted to us under our Constitution – but, to me, those rights include not being bullied. I might not agree with you, but it’s not my place to put you down.
It’s time we all take a good, long look at ourselves and decide that while we might not agree, we can express our differences with respect. I think our community, our country and even the world in general would be much better for it.
Zoe Allensworth’s laugh can be heard across a field strewn with eggs; Morgan Matthews looks up at her dad, Scott, with adoration; Samuel Malin learns about crime scene investigation; Brynli and Edwin learn about art and writing on a day off school.
What do all of these things have in common? They are programs offered by the city of Mustang’s Public Library and Parks and Recreation Department. And, while it’s easy to see these events bring a lot of happiness to area residents, they really are much more than can be seen on the surface.
In recent years, the number of programs offered by both parks and rec and the library have exploded, bringing in literally thousands of children and their families for fun and learning. From reading programs and writing contests to crafts, sports and special events, Mustang Town Center on any given day is bustling with activity.
That’s thanks to the leadership of library director Desiree Webber and Parks and Recreation directors Justin Battles and Jean Heasley – and, in turn, people like children’s librarian Lizzy Moser and Heather Huff, parks and rec special events coordinator. This team has brought happiness to thousands of people and made Mustang a better place in the process.
But, it’s not all fun and games. As strange as it might sound, sometimes these events are life-changers. That was true recently for a dad attending this year’s Daughter-Dad Dance. While he didn’t want to give his name, he did want to thank the dance’s organizers for giving him a chance with a little girl he hadn’t seen in several years. Watching her twirl across the floor, he had tears in his eyes and explained why this particular event meant so much.
“I wasn’t a very good dad for a while, I was pretty messed up, and she had reason not to want to spend time with me,” he said. “Then I saw when I came to work out a flier about this dance and took a chance that it might be a way for her to see me in a different light.”
It’s also the small things that can make a big difference, as well. Administrators at Mustang Public Schools point to the library’s summer reading program as an example.
“We’ve seen a real difference with our kids and how prepared they are when they come back to school, and some of that is definitely due to library programs that help them develop a love of reading,” Mustang Centennial Assistant Principal Daryl Williams told me last year.
Even for a jaded old reporter like me, these events can become something more than I ever expected. Back in 2008, as a fairly new reporter in Mustang, I covered an event called WoofStock. One of Heasley’s seemingly never-ending great ideas, WoofStock brought out residents with their pets, some who wanted to find a new one and more. And, there, waiting for us, was our Bear, who would come to bring our family happiness as the sweetest and most loving dog I’ve ever known. We would never have had him – and he had a happy (and spoiled) life – all because of a Mustang parks and rec event.
That’s a real testament to how Heasley, Webber and the others truly can change people’s lives, and that is something for all of us who love Mustang to be proud of.
Childhood is supposed to be a time of happiness and light, a time of innocence and fun, of love and support. But, for too many their lives are filled with fear, with pain, with loneliness.
The numbers are staggering. According to the Department of Human Services, 11,575 Oklahoma children were abuse or neglect victims in 2013, a 16.8 percent increase from the year before. Of those children 68.2 percent were neglected, 36.8 percent were physically abused and 5.5 percent were sexually abused.
It isn’t all bad news, however. In Canadian County, these children are not alone – every day of the year, they have a legion of people who work to make their lives better, who try to bring some sunshine to their worlds. And, there’s no time that’s more true than in April, during Child Abuse Awareness Month. It should also be a time for the rest of us to shine a light on their efforts and how much difference they have made in the lives of the smallest and most vulnerable of us.
A few weeks ago, some of these people gathered on a windy, cold day to hang blue ribbons marking the start of Child Abuse Awareness Month. They were a group of women who work together a lot – Stacie Seymour, Julia Cochran, Ashley Cline, Lauren Greenfield and Jenna Cansler. As they hung their ribbons, I have to confess I heard snippets of conversation, discussions about children they care for and want to help. And, I realized those blue strips were much more than what they at first seemed. They truly were a symbol of those who suffer so much.
Of course, Seymour and the others work for agencies that concentrate their efforts on changing people’s lives – Canadian County Youth and Family Services and Red Rock Behavioral Services. Those, along with the county health department, Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center and more, employ so many people who consider what they do more than a job, so much so they use their free time to continue those efforts.
Part of that is through the Canadian County Coalition for Children and Families. The group is a “who’s who” of those people in the area who are dedicated to making real change for children who need it. And, it’s not just children – the group works to make families stronger from the inside, helps empower and educate parents, helping families find adequate medical care and even deals with things like trying to stop smoking, alcohol and drug addiction and more.
Their reasoning is simple, coalition member Rosemary Klepper once told me – helping the parents improve their lives also makes each day better for children. While some situations make it necessary to remove kids from their parents, that’s not always the best move. It’s a dance and a complicated one because every effort is geared to helping children not be a part of those terrible statistics.
“It’s just such an honor to be a part of these kids’ lives, to be able to help them,” coalition member Billie Linam once told me.
I suspect the honor really belongs to all of those people they have helped, even those of us who don’t even know what they’ve done and what they continue to do. They give the gift of hope and that’s no small feat at all.