Four hundred thousand words

This is the beginning of my twelfth year of writing this column. That means I have written more than 600 pieces or approximately 400,000 words since January of 2003. I am being conservative in those estimates. I may have repeated myself a few times in the last decade and more. There certainly are weeks when I have to dig deep to find a topic to write about.

I have written about local issues as well as state and national politics. I have written about farming and food, hunger, poverty and justice. I sometimes look for light hearted and trivia. I have written about my faith and about my family. My friends, sisters, spouse, and children have more than once asked me if they will read about some incident in the newspaper. Sometimes I have disguised the guilty, but other times I’ve used their names.

It surprises me when someone stops to tell me that they really liked a particular column. Often I have to ask the reader about the subject. After all, how am I to remember which of the more than 600 pieces I wrote last week? I am pleased that my work is read. Those who stop me are always gracious, probably because I usually hear from people who agree with me. Occasionally, however, someone will take issue with my positions and will challenge me on my opinions. I especially appreciate those friends’ honesty. I thank them for taking the time and having the courage to confront me when they think I’m wrong. Sometimes their arguments alter my thinking. Other times we part still disagreeing. I hope we’re still friends. My favorite comments are the ones that begin, “I don’t always agree with you, but you make me think.”

That is why I write. To make readers think.

To get others thinking requires that I think. I spend hours reading. I read what other thinkers write about on all sides of an argument. Very few issues have only two sides and every view has valid points. All solutions to problems have unintended consequences. Every truth has exceptions. Most fear has some basis.

I don’t claim to be able to see the world from someone else’s point of view. I try to understand what makes someone else think the way they do. I can, however, only see their position filtered through my own experience and understanding. What seems obvious to me may look different from the other side. While I try to write without being judgmental or mean-spirited, this column is an opinion. I may not attempt to present both sides of an argument equally. That’s not my job. I try to find credible resources, to use verifiable statistics when available, and to cite my sources when possible. It is the job of those who disagree with me to do the same and present the other side.

Writing a column in the local newspaper is not the same as writing anonymous comments in response to something on the internet. This column has my name and my picture at the top. It is not anonymous. It takes courage to state what one thinks in a public way. It takes courage to stop me at the grocery store and say, “I disagreed with what you said.” It takes even more courage to write a letter to the editor, sign your name and ask for the rebuttal to be published. It takes no courage at all to write hate-filled, mean spirited, thoughtless comments full of obscenities and name calling while using a pseudonym and an avatar on some web site.

In order for our democracy to thrive, we need to have more people with courage who dare to present the other side of issues. Emotion is a valid reason for disagreement as long as it is recognized for what it is. Emotions cannot be substituted for reason, but it can put humanity in an argument. We should not let our emotions put up walls between us. We need respectful and studied discussion which is based on educated and researched positions. We need to listen to each other.

For now, I plan to keep writing. I hope you will keep reading.

Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains