By nature — and by way of repeated exposure to the ugly side of seemingly pleasant things — newspaper writers reflexively gag whenever anyone speaks about his own good deeds. We are built to find the Botox behind the easy smiles, and we know most people will go to great lengths to hide the needles.
But here’s a secret most newspaper reporters would rather you not know: We are usually very nice people. We’re not cynical because we’re jerks, we’re cynical because we’re idealists. And this is not a kind world to idealists.
So what seems like a surly lot actually is one of the world’s most hopeful and heartbroken species. We believe in the possibility (if not the probability) of a better planet, but we never seem to tell you about it.
Maybe because we think you won’t believe us, or won’t trust us when we admit to doing something nice. More likely, we probably think we’re unwittingly doing something wrong, afraid we’ll find out that by championing Cause X, we’re inadvertently causing the decimation of every aquatic habitat on Earth. Or something.
At the risk of triggering some hydrological holocaust, I decided to turn the spotlight on myself and my cache of regular — and supremely lovely — writers and my editor, much as Karen Hodges Miller turned the lens upon business owners and their giving habits for this issue (see page 4). Karen gets a pass from taking part in this collection because she did the main story. But trust me — she’s lovely.
The point of this introspection is to find out what we writers do when we’re not cursing the world and looking for trouble. Not surprisingly, the spiritual side of my colleagues manifests itself in supremely pragmatic ways.
Bart Jackson: We have taken luxuries and made them necessities — ‘tis a truth hammered home to me by three decades of third-world wandering. Realizing that Lorraine (my wife) and I have been blessed with a surfeit far beyond survival needs, and that our primary charities are teetering, we made some choices.
We raised the church pledge. Let go of some of the smaller plethora of door-knock, mail-pleaders in favor of a combined, more effective sum. We chose one limited project where our combined giving would put it over the top.
We donated one third of this single charity’s need outright — then gave another third as a matching fund. We hope it will bring some blessing. A merry Christmas to all of us with so much to celebrate.
Michele Alperin: I’m not really involved in charitable activities beyond my synagogue, the Jewish Center, where I try to do what I can. I mostly help out where I can with PR for various activities.
I’m on the adult education committee and also on a new committee to make the synagogue more welcoming for gays and lesbians. I also read from the Torah when asked.
I’m not sure the economy prevents me from doing more, but rather the nature of freelancing, which seems to sop up all available time and makes it hard to schedule other regular activities.
Barbara Figge Fox: This December feels very different from last. Last year though my husband was still working, I had left a full-time job at U.S. 1 (I’m freelancing now) and the economy was tobogganing downhill.
This year we are both retired, and though the economy is nosing ever so slightly upward, I hear of a new hard luck story nearly every day. Lost jobs, crushing medical bills — and just last week someone came to my church needing emergency rent help.
So I am turning my skills to helping people find jobs and grow their businesses. Now that I am not tied to the desk, I can get out to business events — reporting on them with a Princeton Comment blog posting or a Twitter feed — and meeting the people I used to talk to on the phone, referring them to resources that they might have missed reading about in U.S. 1. As my social network grows, often by adding contacts to my LinkedIn network, I make that available to those seeking jobs and partners.
And instead of doing newspaper articles about an ad hoc group that aims to create sustainable jobs by encouraging entrepreneurs, I’m pitching in to help that group (Princeton Job Creation Forum http://pjcf.org) get its show on the road. That’s a new role for me. I’ve always helped out in my church (Princeton United Methodist), and I used to be a dedicated Girl Scout volunteer, but during my 21 years of working long hours at U.S. 1, I stayed on the sidelines of civic causes.
So while I continue with the joys of December — the music, the Sunday School pageant, the shopping, the wrapping, the travel plans to visit grandchildren — I’m examining my blessings in a different light. Our pastor has challenged us to spend as much on missions and charity as we do on what goes under the tree — or to halve our gift budgets and donate the rest.
Whoa … Since I am genetically programmed into Yule profligacy, that will take some doing. But at this moment the need is great.
Richard K. Rein. This year began by me asking for help, not offering it. For the past several decades I have tried to keep an eye out for a special needs neighbor living alone and subsisting on government support. This year it got to be too much, and I sought help from Princeton’s Senior Resource Center and other agencies, and was finally put in touch with Mercer County’s Adult Protective Services. That agency found a group home in Hightstown that would accept my neighbor, and I was finally off the hook.
Off the hook, but not without a continuing interest in the neighbor. When he lived alone my boys and I always made a holiday visit to our friend. We thought the tradition should continue at the group home. So last Friday night we showed up with trumpet, trombone, and sheet music and led the group of 15 or so residents in some Christmas carols.
Catherine, a resident, dusted off her recorder and played several solos for us. Betty, who will be 78 on Christmas Day, did some dancing, and Larry, another resident, joined me on vocals. It was hard to tell who got the most out of the evening. The residents seemed to enjoy themselves. My boys saw first hand how music can pull people out of the television-induced trance. And I will never forget Betty’s words at the end of the evening. You have a nice voice, she told me.
See? I told you our writers and editors are lovely people.
As for myself, and my wife, Connie, our bid for a better world revolves almost entirely around animal welfare and educating people that pets are not toys or fashion accessories, they are lives you have taken responsibility for. If you have a pet, you owe it every ounce of protection and compassion that you would give your own children. And if you disagree, you shouldn’t have a pet. Or maybe you shouldn’t have children.
Our charitable donations largely go toward care for sick, injured, or at-risk pets, but we do give to human causes on others’ behalf. Rather than giving objects as gifts, we donate to causes our families believe in. And our families reciprocate. We’ve been financially lucky, but time-strapped, so for us, the always-needed money is our way to help.
As for yourselves, dear readers, celebrate your fortunes because they’re fleeting, but be good to the world that granted them to you.