As we enter the final throws of the Presidential primary season, one in which televised debates and commercials lost the G-rating for family viewing long ago, we can’t help but observe how the breakdown in manners and civility now permeates public life and, sadly, sometimes interactions among neighbors that often take place entirely in the online world.
Politics always has been a rough-and-tumble pugilistic affair — without the minimal padding of gloves designed to protect the puncher’s hand, not the jaw on the receiving end. But over the last several years, being rude or snide has become not only acceptable, but something to be cheered.
Is this really what we want to teach our children? That when we disagree, our first impulse is to insult or accuse? Is this how we want to send them off into the world? It’s certainly not the world we inherited from our parents. And as a practical matter, can anyone claim to have persuaded another person on any issue by calling them names?
In these times, many of us are drawn to people who exemplify civility, civic curiosity, and a genuine love of neighbor — as the faithful are called to embrace. Val Van Meter was such a person. If the pen is, indeed, more powerful than the sword, it’s not just because it’s an instrument for argument. Rather, it’s a means to uplift us all, to remind us of the strength of community and the good that comes from practicing mutual respect.
Whether she was telling the story of a local family or reporting on the dry proceedings of government bodies, she was able to remind us that behind every event and every political controversy there were human beings with hopes and dreams and backgrounds. And she treated them all with respect.
Thinking of Val you can’t help but remember George Baily, the character portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the story, Baily’s guardian angel grants his wish to see what life would have been like had he never been born. He sees how many lives each of us can touch and influence. In this light, it’s hard to imagine Clarke County without the life of Val. And based on the remembrances compiled by Maral Kalbian, published on page 9 of this edition, it’s easy to see how lives and this community are fuller today because of her.
If we’re looking for people to emulate, people who serve a public role in community life, let’s not look to the angry, fear-mongers of politics flinging pseudo-facts and disinformation. We could do so much better for children, ourselves, and our community by taking Val Van Meter’s example of how to encourage conversation and celebrate all that’s wondrous about community life.