We're Stuck With Each Other: Be Nice
November 5, 1999
There is moaning and groaning across the land. The naysayers tell us that we as a nation are going to hell in hand basket. They say we have become immoral, un-Christian and worse . One of my correspondents wrote me a lengthy letter, most of which I wouldn't repeat. But he did say, "I've reached a zero tollerance (sic) for those who support ideas oppositional to a vision of American civilization clearly established by our founding fathers." Presumably God told him exactly what that vision was and why mine was wrong. Said oppositional groups include, besides me, the American Library Association, Playboy, Maya Angelou, the press, the public school system and all public libraries.
Pat Buchanan, who at least can spell, has left his own Republican Party because he says "the two party system is snare and a delusion, a fraud upon the nation" (well, money has something to do with it too).
Aw, come on, guys. Lighten up.
When my ancestors arrived in this country there was - so they thought - infinite space. My father's family were farmers and moved west one state each generation -- from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Indiana to Illinois with one offshoot that eventually headed for Colorado. Probably they were trying to get away from the crowd.
Meanwhile my I-don't-know-how-many-greats maternal grandmother stood in her doorway in Danbury, Connecticut and watched the grease from the pork run by her house as the Redcoats burned the town's provisions in the town common. The British soldiers knew she was the enemy (or at least the enemy's wife), but they treated her kindly, and she gave them water to drink, so the record says.
From the day when the first white man landed in North America we have been a diverse nation, one group pushing on another. The Pilgrims were interlopers and the Indians were certainly annoyed. But in those early days there was lots of elbow room. Our farmer ancestors and our revolutionary soldiers had many problems, but personal space was not one of them. In 1790 the population of the United States was 4.5 per square mile. In 1990 it was 70.3. My math is not up to calculating the fraction of a person per square mile in 1790 if we were to include all the land in today's boundaries. But it is hardly headline news that there are a lot more people squeezed together today than there were 200 years ago.
Of course it creates problems -- more problems than our ancestors dreamed of. We are dealing with racism, sexism, potential overpopulation, rapidly expanding technology, just to mention a few. But I have trouble believing that yelling at each other is the best way to solve them.
Recently I spoke the Newcomers Club here in Happy Valley. It was a great experience. They were friendly and receptive and obviously interested in our community. I had a good time. But one comment horrified me. One person said "We were so glad to hear you say 'Welcome,'" What on earth does that say about our "friendly community"?
It says that some people feel threatened by increasing population and the problems it brings. Instead of seeing the advantages of having new people, new ideas, new industries, some of us have chosen to be rude and, have become, in the words of a late unlamented vice president, "nattering nabobs of negativism.
On the other hand, I spent five minutes or so in a dead car in the left lane of North 1st street during the rush hour last week. I could certainly have used Harry Potter's Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick. Lacking that, an extremely nice man pushed my car out of harm's way, helped me get help and stayed with me and the car until the car was hauled away and I was hauled home by my buddy Chris.
There are far more positive people in the world than negative ones. Otherwise civilization would have disappeared long before my grandmother watched the fat from the town's provisions flow past her door, and gave a drink of water to the Redcoat.