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OPINION

The Flatlander

2021: A Review of Highs and Lows

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Of 2021, some have noted how quickly it passed, yet seemed to drag on forever.

Such are the complex feelings of a politically divided society, living through a pandemic in a time when there is no middle ground – only the position of extreme. But live on, we must.

The calendar speaks only truth. This is the Leader’s next-to-last issue before the New Year. And so, it is time to both reflect and look ahead. That’s what we’ll do in this space today, and next week.

It should be said at the outset, and perhaps before today, that these opinions are mine only, and in no way represent those of the Leader, the county’s newspaper of record for three score and 10 years.

Let’s spend this week looking at some of 2021’s highs and lows, and their ramifications:

High: Our rural medical community may well qualify as “person of the year.” Hospital staff, administration, clinic managers, not to mention local pharmacies have served the front lines to protect community health. While doing so, they have faced even bigger questions regarding our very way of life. Most local health care professionals would tell you privately how much they wish everyone would take the precautionary measures and get vaccinated. The science is clear, and in the spirit of “do no harm” it’s the right thing.

On the other hand, they have wrestled with the very pillars on which this country was founded – our individual rights and freedoms. Do you, (or should you) give up those rights for the privilege of entering a certain profession? If so, where does it end?

Community health servants have stayed awake at night wrestling with these questions. They deserve our thanks.

The admirable role our local pharmacies have played in this fight cannot be overestimated.

Low: On this topic of individual rights: The mass communication possibilities that social media now make available have brought a fog to many users’ minds. Traditionally, journalists are educated and trained for years to use communication strategies now available to the public at large. These new mechanics create a blurred notion about freedom of expression versus the individual “right” to publish any comment about any person or event, at any time, and with no regard to facts.

We’ve seen the targets locally. The local school district and its staff. Local restaurants and their staffs. A child misbehaving in some local venue. In so many cases, the public criticisms (which impact real people with real feelings and professional reputations and livelihoods) are imposed by those who at best have less than a full understanding of the facts, or at worst, a complete disregard for the sanctity of truth, or worse yet, an outright malicious intent toward anyone or anything who doesn’t align with their way of thinking.

This is wrong, and we’ve got to do better.

Low: Some public officials made a mockery of this whole “will of the people” thing, not to mention ideas about entrepreneurism and capitalism, by blocking the way for mobile food vendors in town. But honestly, the potential vendors who wanted this made it relatively easy for the naysayers, and never really showed up for themselves. Whatever fear is created by these small-business entrepreneurs could be easily regulated with the proper municipal codes. Keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll keep getting what you’ve got.

Low: Building a new county jail brings to mind the story of the Three Little Pigs. The project came in for bid more than $3 million over budget. Skyrocketing material costs have kept county officials reacting rather than moving forward. It’s a circumstance no one foresaw, but a tough circumstance, nonetheless. Straw, sticks, bricks, what will it be? Inflation keeps blowing the house down.

High: The new sidewalk and streetlights on the Square are a great city enhancement. Installation crews did a superb job and worked intentionally through the summer to provide as little disruption as possible. It’s functional and attractive.

High: City and county road and street crews brought their A-Game to a winter storm with blizzard-like conditions and the coldest temperatures in 30 years that might otherwise have crippled the region for weeks. Crews worked around the clock clearing streets and county roads, clearing the way for those of us who live in some of the county’s most remote areas. They surpassed our expectations in many ways.

Low with an opportunity for a High: It appears we are in desperate need of volunteer leadership from those of us in the Gen X crowd. So many of those individuals who lead our most productive volunteer enterprises are entering the latest years of their retirements. Those of us in our 40s, and 50s, and 60s who often call for change, simply need to bring change and leadership.

High that feels like a Low: Federal employees at Blanchard Springs Caverns and a handful of elected officials announced a list of major tourism-related improvements in October and agreed to the need for communications committee of sorts that would become a liaison between the park and the public. Not a word has been communicated since.

Meanwhile, this amazing natural attraction is closed to the public for a second year.

Next week: Some personal highs and lows from 2021, and a thought or two about the future.

(Steve Watkins is a writer/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com)

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