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February 2020
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Staff Editorials

Us and our things

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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The last place I remembered putting it was in the little dish below the medicine cabinet – one of the only two places I ever put it. But the next morning it wasn’t there. 

That was a month ago and I still haven’t found the ring my grandmother gave me. I still haven’t found the ring that was perfect in all the ways a ring could be perfect – woven golden mesh, vintage, art deco. I’ve never felt so sick over losing a material object - actual physical heartache. 

This wasn’t just some “thing.” It meant something. 

My visceral reaction made me think about our relationship to “stuff” and how it becomes part of us, a representation of ourselves and a way we identify in the world. Then I thought about the mass of stuff we have now – most things that don’t “spark joy” but that fill up space and feed what seems to be an insatiable craving for more. I remembered my grandmother who had the same bath towels almost my entire life - the same dishes, the same bedspreads, the same everything, but that kind of conservative consumption isn’t the norm now. 

“People just seem to want money and somewhere to spend it,” she told me sharply over dinner one night. 

I recently read a book about old Florida, a novel that tracks the state from the early 1900s through the late 1960s, when it was published. The protagonist, Stoddard, evokes Ayn Rand’s titans of industry. We meet him as one of the 10 wealthiest men in the country - a driving force behind Florida’s development from an “exclusive sanctuary for the rich” with a few estates surrounded by uninhabited, raw land, to the “glittering, thriving, garish land it is today.” The story follows Stoddard from his childhood through WWI, then through the economic booms and busts. After the war, there was a surge of speculative interest. Land prices skyrocketed. Property was bought and traded. People had money and wanted more.  

“The desire for status became an obsession…The urge for conspicuous consumption was described by one industrialist as ‘the divine discontent.’ Debt was encouraged and made easy…Few persons remembered when there was vague social stigma in having a mortgage on one’s home. To owe money, and the more the better, was an infallible indication of a man’s credit and, therefore, his position in the community.”

Editorials are supposed to argue a point. So…what’s my point? I suppose it’s more of a question. Are we happier with more? Or are we able to appreciate simple things when we don’t surround ourselves with so much? 

When the Florida market crashed all the money and land deals were gone, but people seemed --- relieved. Stoddard had a small gathering with food and music and friends. He, like others, were happy to slow down and return to a simpler life. 

“There was an aura of contentment surrounding the group. At the moment no one wanted more than what he had.”  

Last week I reported a house fire that put my grandmother’s ring into perspective – this family lost everything. But the mother had an overwhelming sense of gratitude because her children were alive. Her seven-year-old got the two youngest out just in time. She clung to God, and told me she’d rather lose everything than lose her family. They would rebuild. 

My ring became less important. 

The book opens with Stoddard surveying a particularly thriving part of Florida that he had built. 

“God must have felt this way when he gazed upon the world and found it good,” he thought.   

But we later learn Stoddard became trapped in his own success, and in some way his fate reflects “the fatal flaw in the golden myth Florida has become.”

I’m not arguing we go off-grid or throw away our things, but “conspicuous consumption,” I agree, leads to divine discontent. Sometimes less can be so much more. 

 

Give the new businesses a shot

By Dan Pool

Editor

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Never do I recall this many new businesses in Jasper’s downtown at one time. Start back with Smokin’ Mo’s, you can then add the Old Mulehouse, plus two sweet shops, a quilting shop and a workout place.

I am optimistic that this mix may re-invigorate the town – certainly more so than lights on the top of buildings or new traffic signals. 

And with the latest additions, we have what would seem a better balance of places to eat and places to shop and window shop. 

Towns need both dining and retail to create an atmosphere where people won’t just dine and dash back home but walk around or come to shop and then stay for an ice cream or a drink.

It’s exciting to see where things will go from here. Smokin’ Mo’s and Lollidrops have already put after-dark energy in the  town and the other additions will make our Main Street a better place to hang out.

Seeing the people out and about on the sidewalks after sunset or on Sunday is a big step in the right direction. 

Not that we want to be a party city or tourist trap, but it’s nice to see that Jasper is home to places that provide character. 

A friend of mine in Ellijay reminds me often that while their downtown has boomed, he can’t get a seat at his favorite bar and doesn’t see anyone he knows among the crowds.  

I don’t want to ever see Jasper like that, but I do want to see it vibrant and active enough to support the businesses here.

In full accuracy it should be noted these new establishments only put us a little ahead of where we were last year. Longtime businesses Moore Furniture, The Woodbridge Inn, plus relative newcomers Wingsology and Revive Us Again have closed. And while not on Main Street, our largest local retailer, the Bargain Barn, also called it quits in the past year.

Churn and turnover is how the business world works. It’s always risky starting a new venture, especially in the face of online competition and hostile, belligerent social media reviews.

I’d like to encourage everyone to give these new spots a chance and to give downtown Jasper another chance if you haven’t strolled our fair streets lately. [Remember that this weekend is JeepFest and it will be crowded on Friday night.]

These businesses and their owners/employees are what will make Jasper special. Certainly the lighting, brick accents and plants set a great stage but people will come for the businesses that line the street - they are the stars.

The Jasper government has long promised perks such as bathrooms, renovated spaces, even different traffic patterns and failed to deliver on anything for downtown. These new businesses and the building owners have quietly forged ahead -  renovating, sprucing up and opening establishments that will hopefully make the town proud and more enjoyable.   It is not surprising that small business, not government, leads the charge for civic improvement. Small shops and restaurants have always been the backbone of America and when you have government out of the way and business people engaged you are more likely to see a whole area succeed. People who have made an investment and put their money, time and reputation on the line have the strongest incentive to see that the town prospers. 

The community needs to support these places, simply by giving them a chance for your business. If you go and don’t like it, fair enough – maybe give them a second chance – but certainly they deserve a first chance from the community. So spend a few bucks and see if their products, services and food measure up.

You can’t go wrong shopping in your hometown first.

 

Restoring sanity to parents and classrooms

School is open for another year and with it we’re already hearing reports of bad behavior – entitled people who refuse to accept any blame or suggestions and show absolutely no respect to teachers or principals. 

To be clear here, we are talking about parents - full-grown adults who need a time-out or perhaps some corporal punishment.

It was recently reported by our governor that the state can’t keep teachers in the profession very long. While teacher salaries have reached a very respectable level, it must be assumed they don’t enjoy their work environment. Dealing with spoiled-rotten kids they can’t discipline without fear that any action will be met by an irate phone call/e-mail from some relative who is appalled anyone would take issue with the little tyrant they send to school every day.

Like any profession, some teachers are better than others and the worst teachers may be genuinely bad or uninspired. But what we’d ask parents and guardians to consider is that in generations past, teachers and all adults in authority were shown some respect. 

It was generally expected that kids be able to comport themselves in group settings and allow a classroom to function and this low expectation should still be meet by parents sending their child to school. What has changed is the view in the minds of many parents/guardians that their child is automatically right and so the  teacher must be wrong. It is certainly worthwhile for any parent to get the whole story, but the whole story includes the possibility that your child was at fault.

Everyone who has gone through the public school system has stories of the time someone “got them in trouble.” And life is full of unfairness. But, it’s hard to believe that  teachers have enough to free time to randomly seek out kids they want to punish for no reason. Parents who always feel that their child is targeted unfairly by teachers should take another look at what their child is doing to draw the extra attention.

The larger issue is how parents and students interact with teachers. Are they making the profession so unrewarding that many teachers don’t last longer than the five years mentioned by Governor Kemp? We have heard stories of parents who before even talking with the teacher have taken to social media to post inaccurate accounts of classroom episodes,which are supported by the typical Facebook trolls, who never consider that maybe the child is fibbing. Kids do that.

More civility in schools starts with giving respect to those in authority in the classroom, even if, as a parent or student, you disagree with them. That is the way the whole system operates. When children who have been led to believe at home they can do no wrong come into contact with the world (in the form of a classroom of peers and a teacher) it should be an awakening, but too often it’s a case where the enabling parents respond by thrusting themselves further into every situation. These parents need to ask themselves where do they stop? Do they follow the child along into adulthood to shield him/her from other authority figures like a boss or the judge?

Psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson advises as one of his key points to never raise children whom you dislike. That is pretty simple advice for parenting, but solid.  If you child is constantly engaging in some behavior that deep down bothers you, put a stop to it and don’t expect a teachers to tolerate it.

We need classrooms returned to a state of civil respect because at some point taxpayers aren’t going to keep putting out better carrots to lure new teachers. And this attitude starts with parents letting the teachers teach without expecting them tolerate behavior a generation before would have pulled out hickory switches to deal with. 

Neighborly enough?

Last week the Pew Research Center came out with some interesting figures about just how neighborly we are, from the big city types to those of us who live in little towns like Jasper and Pickens County. The findings were somewhat surprising.

A majority of Americans, a full 57 percent, say they know only some of their neighbors while far fewer, 26 percent, say they know most of them, according to the Pew Research Center survey. Pretty shocking, especially when the same study found residents in rural areas like ours are more likely than people in suburbia and urban areas to know all or most of their neighbors, but, get this, we aren’t more likely to interact with them.

What a shame. We know them but don’t hang out or cook out or have each other over for dinner.

You would think a huge draw to living in a small town or county would be getting to know the few close neighbors we have. The study found that four-in-10 rural residents say they know all or most of their neighbors compared with 24 percent of urban residents and 28 percent of suburban residents. Roughly half of rural residents, about 47 percent, say they have face-to-face conversations with their neighbors at least once a week, with similar shares of suburban – 49 percent – and urban -  53 percent – residents saying the same.

One thought is here in the rural areas, we drive past each other, while the urban folks aren’t in cars thus more likely to stop and talk in the apartment building or on the sidewalk.

The study also found Americans age 65 and older are more likely than those age 18 to 29 to say they know most of their neighbors (34 percent vs. 20 percent). Not too surprising perhaps. In contrast, about a quarter (23 percent) of adults under 30 don’t know any of their neighbors, compared with just four percent among those 65 and older. That seems like a trend, and not a good one.

There are also slight differences based on marital status, according to the report. Roughly three-in-10 married adults (31 percent) say they know most of their neighbors, compared with about a quarter or fewer of those who are unmarried (22 percent); living with a partner (20 percent); divorced, separated or widowed (26 percent); or have never been married (19 percent). Having children at home isn’t related to stronger ties with neighbors: Parents are just as likely as non-parents to say they know most of their neighbors (26 percent for each group).

Even in a digital age, neighborly interactions are still more likely to happen in person than via text or email. Americans who know at least some of their neighbors are more than twice as likely to say they have face-to-face conversations with them several times a week (20 percent) than over the phone or by email or text message (7 percent each).

Social events among neighbors are relatively rare, Pew found. Among Americans who know at least some of their neighbors, a majority (58 percent) say they never meet them for parties or get-togethers. About three-in-10 (28 percent) say they have parties or get-togethers less than once a month, and 14 percent say they do this monthly or more often.

Have we lost the art of neighborliness? We hope not. Being a part of a welcoming community makes daily life so much more pleasant. Neighborliness is not always about nice homes and lawns and parks but more about how people in a given area treat one another. Being neighborly is closer to what Jesus meant when he said there were two great commandments, the second being to love your neighbor as yourself. So maybe instead of watching Netflix one evening, we could try sitting on our front porches and inviting a neighbor over to “sit for a spell,” or taking a walk and saying hello to everyone we meet along the way. While Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” which reads “Good fences make good neighbors,” seems more accurate of how we live today, it doesn’t have to be that way.  

Take it down a notch with political rhetoric

Over the weekend, America saw two more mass shootings. It would be inaccurate to say Americans were shocked by them – just two more to add to the list.

Initial reports indicated that a gunman in El Paso, TX killed 20 and wounded at least 26 in a Walmart. Then within 24 hours, a man killed nine and wounded 27 outside a bar in Dayton, OH.

The El Paso shooting is getting a lot more press and is more interesting as there is a reported strong tie to the gunman and an anti-Hispanic manifesto posted on a website. The same website previously posted similar white supremacist writings of a mass shooter in New Zealand and an anti-Semitic rant of a mass shooter at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

There was some online jabbering that the Dayton shooter may have held some political views as well, but those were not as prevalent and one former school classmate of the shooter told the Dayton newspaper, “I think this is less of a hate crime and more of an ‘I hate everybody’ crime.”

President Trump has sharply condemned the El Paso shooting’s white supremacist motive, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

Will anything change as a result of these latest shootings? Probably not with gun laws, mental health screenings or immigration policy.

There will always be people like the young man in Dayton who have warped views on violence. There were reports he had been kicked out of school for making a hit list.

There will always be dangerously unbalanced people. But for situations like  the El Paso shooting the tone used in daily political discourse,  in partisan groups on both sides, especially in their online chat circles certainly plays a role.

It’s here that the average American might consider the tone they project. Maybe we need to add disclaimers that we are speaking only in the political sense when we call for the obliteration of some group or type of people. Or claim those whom we disagree with “hate America.”

Words do matter and when we use words like “fighting for,” “defending” or paint the opposition as “destroying our way of life,” the vast majority of Americans recognize this as political rhetoric, but for the mentally unhinged this identifies enemies who become targets.

The president often bears the brunt of criticism for his tweets. But people may be shocked to learn that Hollywood funny-man Jim Carrey makes a daily habit of posting offensive artwork skewering political leaders or that Madonna once said she had thought of blowing up the White House, later retracted. Multiple-wrongs do not make a right.

Hate-filled diatribes are rampant online. And the way to one-up what’s already out there isn’t to post more articulated and thoroughly researched ideas; it’s to use even more incendiary words. From there it’s only one  step to see someone take action. That miserable, deluded loner believes he can suddenly be the hero for putting this talk into action.

Some of us need to “chill” or take it down a notch with the tone in our political rants. If you don’t think things have gotten out of hand imagine if Hillary Clinton wanted to ride in a float in a parade in Pickens County? Would she be safe? Not just safe from hecklers but from violence?

Or what about if President Trump wanted to go door-to-door in liberal areas of the country? How hard would the Secret Service job be that day?

America may have reached a breaking point as it’s hard to see what can ever re-unite the different political views. 

But the first step must be an ability to talk politics without using language that implies violent action is what this country needs.