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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

What's Missing For Me

By Jane Thibodeau Martin

This will be the 11th presidential election I will vote in, and I certainly don't remember anything the first ten times even close to the nasty spectacle we've seen this year. This column isn't about taking sides in this election. It's about the fact that something has been missing all along this election year for me, and I was having a lot of trouble putting my finger on it until yesterday.

Yesterday, I had a "BGO" " "Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious." I can sum it up by the phrase that suddenly jumped into my head as I was painting a door. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." THAT is the vision, the message, that is missing.

Now, this challenge is from the inaugural speech of one of our previously elected U.S. presidents. Some of you older people know who, and of what political party that president was. This president was, on some levels, deeply flawed as a person, like all of us are. But none of that matters to me. What matters to me is the concept that we, the electorate, have a really important job, and it's not just going to the polls to vote.

I personally believe this is the greatest country on earth, and I personally believe we have way more things to be grateful for than we have serious issues to solve. Make no mistake, we have issues. But no single person will fix all those issues, not even a person as influential as the president of the United States.

No, WE have a responsibility to work on those problems we worry about ourselves, at whatever level we can. There is no "magic wand" or omnipotent human to solve big problems. Big problems are solved by committed groups of people, working together, with a common vision of what would be better. And a common vision is part of what we, as a country, lack. We are fractured and splintered, and until that gets better, we aren't going to be able to define a common vision and a plan to achieve that vision no matter who wins the presidential election.

A critically important part of what we can do is listen. Listen to the perspectives of people who disagree with us. Listen to people of other faith backgrounds, or those who have no formal faith. Listen to people who are of different races, or are from different socio-economic classes. People from a different part of our country, or who work in different jobs or industries. You will see that most issues are not black and white; they are some shade of grey. Band together, and work toward a common vision of what would be better, and you can change things. You and a few committed, like-minded people.

A few examples of the kinds of things I mean:

A woman whose child was killed by a drunk driver, banding together with other people who lost a family member to this kind of tragedy, and MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is born. Our acceptance of preventable deaths due to drunken drivers is forever changed, and laws are changed as a result of an electorate who dictated to their elected officials they supported such laws.

Denver, Colorado animal welfare activists had a vision that it was not necessary to humanely destroy healthy stray dogs. (Most shelter kill rates for stray and impounded dogs are around 50% or higher, with the kill rate for cats higher yet.) Programs and communications were creatively designed and people demanded enforcement of existing-but-ignored spay and neuter laws to reduce the numbers of puppies and kittens that aren't wanted. This plan of action resulted in 2012 "live release" rates for shelter dogs of 90%, with cats nearly 80% as well, an unheard of success. ("Live release" means the animal was either adopted or successfully returned to the owner.) Their vision was that it shouldn't be necessary to kill healthy animals, and a group of committed people made that a reality. Denver now imports adoptable strays from overcrowded shelters in other states to meet their demand for adoptable animals.

In my own area, those of the Islamic faith invited the public to come to a dinner and meet people who live and work in Oklahoma and are part of the Islamic faith community. They explained the basic tenants of their faith and invited questions to help people understand more about Islam, and counter the extremely negative perception so many have. They built trust, because once you have eaten with someone you have built relationships. They opened their doors and their hearts to those who fear or criticize them, and this gesture changed minds. I commend not only the Islamic hosts; I commend the open-minded people who chose to accept this invitation to listen and learn.

Ask not what your country can do for you""we would be a better nation, a better state, a better local community if we got better at asking "What can I do for my country/state/city/neighborhood to make things better?"

This is the challenge we need to take up to solve some of our big problems. This is the challenge we need to keep in front of our children. Sitting back and preparing to complain loudly and long once the election is over will not make anything better. But you and I can make things better, if we work together on one problem that means a lot to us. It's the old-fashioned concept of taking accountability " a concept that should never go out of style.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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