Staff Columnist

Wholesome letters offer contrast to nasty politics

Cedar Rapids, city of. Gazette, The. (Gazette Company, Gazette Communications, GFOC). No caption information available. Photo appears to show Gazette wire news editor, Malcolm M. Thompson, Jr. (left foreground), in the newsroom. Circa 1953.
Cedar Rapids, city of. Gazette, The. (Gazette Company, Gazette Communications, GFOC). No caption information available. Photo appears to show Gazette wire news editor, Malcolm M. Thompson, Jr. (left foreground), in the newsroom. Circa 1953.

Many Americans bemoan the erosion of political civility.

Pollsters and political analysts tell us the electorate’s values are increasingly disparate, and there’s strong evidence that Americans are subscribing to dangerous forms of political tribalism.

However, I argue we are not as divided as the political media might suggest. To see why, look to The Gazette’s letters to the editor.

I have been fascinated by letters to the editor since I was a child, long before I ever imagined I might get paid to write my own opinions in the newspaper. I remember thinking how neat it is that news organizations dedicate space to regular people who have a brief message to share with the community.

My childhood affinity for community submissions persists to this day. Proofreading letter submissions is one of my favorite parts of the job.

At their worst — the vitriolic and ill-informed — letters still serve as a sort of weather vane for community sentiment, discouraging as it may be. At their best, letters remind us of Americans’ enduring sense of community, even in seemingly divisive times.

Since I started contributing to The Gazette opinion page more than two years ago, I have taken note of what I call wholesome letters — positive notes, messages of gratitude or opinions about anything other than contentious political issues.

In this column, I have compiled several of the best entries to share with you, loyal reader.

Viki Ingram of Marion (“Road construction kindness appreciated,” June 29) explained that she is sometimes confused by all the “crazy construction” happening in Eastern Iowa. Understandably, Ingram said she doesn’t always recognize what lane she is supposed to be in.

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Ingram wrote to The Gazette, not to criticize city planners or construction project managers, but to thank the kindly motorists who have accommodated her missteps.

“They have let me into the correct lane when I have clearly been in the wrong one. No horn blaring or obscene gestures, just politely allowing me to adjust to the correct lane,” Ingram wrote.

John Carver of Decorah (“Volunteers deserve a hearty thank you,” May 18, 2017) felt the need to applaud the people who clear our roads and ditches of litter, and also admonish those who cause the problem in the first place.

Newspapers frequently receive letters of praise from authors who have a personal involvement in some cause. This one stood out, thought, because the author seemed to be motivated by nothing but genuine appreciation.

“Thanks to our pickup friends and no thanks to those who create the mess. It’s time to put our volunteers out of work by doing what is right and not filling the ditches,” Carver wrote.

Dorothy Hinman of Cedar Rapids (“Reader grateful for kindness of strangers,” Sept. 24, 2018) reported some unexpected help she received at a local grocery store.

Hinman “dashed in to pick up a few things,” but when she came out of the store, she found she didn’t have her car keys. Luckily, a man parked nearby called for her attention and dangled her keys. He had seen her drop them and waited while she was shopping.

“How many people would have even picked them up? Or worse, how many would have used them to access my car? … This is one old lady (87) who will always be grateful for the kindness of strangers,” Hinman wrote.

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Apparently, grocery stores are a common site for expositions of Iowa nice. B.J. Clouston of Cedar Rapids (“Reader finds unexpected kindness in the checkout line,” June 9) also wrote about a trip to Hy-Vee.

Clouston, who was wearing a cast on one arm, let another customer with only a few items go ahead of her in the checkout line. When she went up to pay, she discovered the mystery man had left extra cash to pay for her groceries.

“It truly turned just any old day into a special day. Now, it’s my turn to pay it forward. And I will,” Clouston wrote.

I have a soft spot for one very specific subset of wholesome letters — suggestions for new restaurants the region might attract.

Rosemary Meyer of Cedar Rapids (“Cedar Rapids needs better restaurants,” June 12) lamented the lack of a couple popular restaurant chains on the west side of town.

“It seems strange though that a city our size couldn’t support a couple more restaurants such as Red Lobster or Olive Garden. Look at their parking lots and wait-lists,” Meyer wrote.

Perhaps my all-time favorite piece of opinion writing came from Kermit E. Postier of Cedar Rapids (“Cedar Rapids needs a Cracker Barrel,” Dec. 14, 2018), who noted one specific omission from the region’s dining choices.

Postier wrote about how he and his wife have “traveled many places” and are consistently impressed with Cracker Barrel, the restaurant chain that is popular along interstate highways throughout the southeastern and Midwestern United States.

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“Can’t our mayor, business manager and council members figure out a way for our beautiful Cedar Rapids to have that? If we had one, there would be a long line of people waiting to get in,” Postier wrote.

I will grant there are more pressing issues to ponder than restaurant selection, volunteerism and random acts of kindness. Indeed, The Gazette opinion page is dominated by contributions that no one would call wholesome.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember there still is some semblance positivity in our civic life. These select few writers remind us we are more than our disagreements.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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