Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One year later: Anniversary Recollections - 4-29-09 Editor's column

This past weekend (on April 26), I had the opportunity to celebrate my first year of marriage to my wife, Tania.

As the weekend progressed and we were out doing things together such as shopping for flowers and having the celebratory anniversary dinner, I couldn’t help but think about what we were celebrating.

At the same time, I also began to wonder if everyone else who has an anniversary - whether it’s their first or their 50th - thinks about what they are celebrating when they give that symbolic gift or sit down for a nice, quiet dinner together.

I decided that one of the best ways to mark my anniversary each year would be to think of all the things my wife and I accomplished in the previous year, kind of as a nice reflection on the way we have not only succeeded, but also grown together.

For example, I can say that without a doubt, I have become a much more patient person in my first year of marriage than I was even in the three and a half years that my wife and I dated.

In some situations where I knew exactly what I meant and she was having trouble understanding, I had to maintain patience and understanding while I continued to explain until she knew where I was coming from. The same is true of situations from her to me, in which I had a hard time understanding where she was coming from.

Then there is the selflessness of marriage. I’ve heard people say that you never realize how selfish you are until you have a child, which I’m sure is true. However, I think this could also easily apply to a marriage relationship.

Over the last year, I’ve had to learn how to put my wife and well-being of the both of us before myself, which is harder to do than one might think.

More and more I find myself considering what would benefit my wife in a certain situation instead of what would benefit just me. What would she like to do today? I know I would like to eat here or see that movie, but what would she like?

It’s easy to be self-centered, but much harder to be other-centered, which I think is essential to my marriage or any other marriage for that matter.

Then there are the easier things to recall: the funny moments where we both ended up laughing at each other, the times we spent with friends and together. The holidays that we spent with our new families. The days we spent taking care of each other while sick. The list could go on.

However you choose to celebrate your next anniversary, try taking a moment to remember what the previous year did for your marriage. When we reflect on the things that we have learned - especially about ourselves and our relationships - our ability to sustain both becomes that much more refined and special.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Live local and shop local - 4-29-09 Mahomet Citizen Editorial

When the town of Mahomet comes to mind for many of the people outside of our community, the terms “bedroom,” and “garage door” usually come up in conversation to describe the kind of town that we are.

The idea behind these terms is to denote that most of the people who live here work, play and shop in places like Champaign and Urbana, only to come home to Mahomet, where they pull into their garages and don’t really set foot outside their homes until the next morning when again they get up and go to work.

However, many of the businesses in the Mahomet area surely wonder “what about us?” And so they should. After all, it isn’t wrong of them to expect the residents of their town to come to them for their needs and services. In fact, for many - if not all - consumers, it could be very right for them to shop locally.

One of the biggest benefits you can find by shopping locally is keeping the money you spend in your local economy. Instead of getting all of your groceries at large-scale chain stores and benefiting the economies of other towns, you can keep the taxes that you pay on your purchases in fund for the town that you live in, effectively perpetuating growth while also sustaining local jobs and keeping wages up for your neighbors.

The next time you walk out your door and you see the new sidewalk or the freshly poured concrete that adorns the road in front of your house, consider for a moment where some of those funds came from: The local tax fund, of which the local businesses are a part.

Another way to look at shopping locally is to maintain the feel that local retailers add to the community. Instead of driving into Champaign to hit up the Starbucks, maybe just stay in town and go to a local coffee shop or get a new roast from the IGA. Without the sales generated by your patronage, these local retailers can’t maintain the upkeep on their stores and may have to either close or deal with lackluster offerings to the public just to stay afloat.

This leads me into another point: We are a country founded on the backs of small businesses and small business owners. Where would Wal-Mart be without the customers that made it what it is? What about the countless food chains that have become national success stories because of their customer bases? We are those customers and our small businesses need us just as much as the national stores did before they became what they are today.

Finally, one of the best reasons to shop locally is the community that you build by becoming a regular customer. Many of these businesses are run by people who have grown up in Mahomet or who are raising families in Mahomet. This builds strong bonds of friendship, a desire for the business owners to do what is best for their customers and a desire for the customers to support those businesses.

We may not change the economy in one fell swoop by shopping locally and supporting local businesses, but we can still help our local economy thrive as we as a town grow towards the future.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Reality of perception 4-15-09 Editor's column

One of the more interesting statements that I have ever heard is that “perception is reality.”

That is to say that, what we perceive is what must be real.

However, I’ve always found this statement to be somewhat off-putting. Mainly because I’ve always felt that perception is simply unrealized intrigue - a lack of effort to understand and instead settling with the answer that is already provided.

This follows along the same lines as “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” meaning that just because you see something’s outward appearance and it says one thing, doesn’t mean it can’t be another thing entirely.

For example, many of us are less than willing to admit that when we see individuals who dress differently from the social “norms,” we perceive them to be a certain way. The same is true when applied to other areas such as what people drive, whether or not they have tattoos, where they live and how they talk.

Some of the more common perceptions are that the people who drive nice cars or wear nice clothing are obviously rich. Another is that people who have visible tattoos are obviously trouble or have a checkered past.

Then you get into the area of how people speak. Perhaps there is someone you know that speaks English as a second language and thus has a heavy foreign accent. In a conversation with that individual and another person who speaks great English, more often than not we find that less attention is paid to the individual who speaks the foreign language.

However, if we perceive these things to be true, does that really make them reality or does it simply mean we are too lazy to see beyond what is easiest to accept?

I tend to lean towards the latter, if only for the simple fact that I have a hard time believing that everything should be taken at face value. If that were the case, I would have never taken my English professor seriously, especially considering his thick Congolese accent.

I may have the more accepted accent, but he’s the one with the Ph.D in English and the one that speaks three languages.

My point is, while it is easier to accept things as they are - to not ask questions or dig any deeper than outward appearances - it is often more rewarding to simply ask questions and learn about someone for yourself.

The next time you meet someone with a sleeve of tattoos, ask what they mean or where they were done. The next time you hear an accent, ask where it is from. If you meet someone who drives a nice car, try talking shop.

Communities shouldn’t just grow in numbers - they should also grow in knowledge about one another.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Voting Aftermath 4-8-09 Editor's Column

We now find ourselves one day removed from yet another election. Some of you may be pleased with the results, others may be disappointed and now all of us can sit back and wait for the “next step,” that we often hear about in the months that lead up to the moment that the ballots are cast.

I, for one, am relieved.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the process of electing new officials - it’s quite the opposite. I really enjoy being part of the civic process and seeing what changes come with it, if any.

I do, however, believe that there are some parts of the process that could be changed for future races.

At some point during the campaigning process there seems to be a perspective shift from what is in the best interest of the town to what is in the best interest of getting the candidates running elected.

At first, candidates seem adamant about the changes that they hope to implement if they earn their respective positions or the improvements that they hope to make on the current system to ensure that it continues to run strong.

But gradually, candidates seem to be campaigning less about the issues that they originally set out to address and more against the people who are sitting across the proverbial table from them.

From there, it becomes the epitome of the word “contest.” Each side explains why they are superior in hopes that we, the public that will have the final say, will side with what they hope we see as the better version of the truth.

My problem with this is that it often turns people that would otherwise be good, supportive neighbors and friends, against each other.

I don’t have any issues with pointing out that one side of the table does not offer something that the other side will and vice versa, but I do have issues with people dragging each other’s credibility through the mud for the sake of convincing someone to vote one way over the other instead of earning that vote.

I have seen far too much unnecessary mudslinging during this election cycle to the point that I think it has averted some eyes from other issues entirely. There were some genuinely great races that were run that we lost sight of because they weren’t full of controversy.

I have two hopes now that we have concluded our local elections: The first is that we can learn from this experience and grow between now and the next election cycle. The second, is that we can now rally around the incoming officials and put aside our allegiances for the good of our community.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Not playing with fire 4-1-09 column

As many readers and village residents are aware, the village of Mahomet board of trustees are currently in the process of deciding whether or not they should ban burning in the village and up to a certain distance outside its limits.

As expected, residents may find themselves in one of two places: For the idea, or against it. However, there is more to holding an opinion about a controversial subject than sharing an opinion for the sake of doing so.

Instead, we should be well informed regarding the issue we are proponents or opponents of and should intend our opinions to depict as much.

That doesn’t mean we have to waver in our support, but it does mean that instead of saying “I think it’s a terrible idea,” or “I think it’s a great idea,” we go a little further and explain why. Why is it a bad idea? Why is it a good idea? And more importantly, what supports your opinion?

Additionally, it might also serve us best as a community to engage in civil discourse of the issue instead of simply agreeing to disagree.

Instead of simply telling our neighbors why their opinions are wrong, perhaps we should instead be considering what is affecting their opinions in the first place.

Perhaps there is a family member that has a health problem that is affected by smoke. Or, conversely, perhaps your neighbor is concerned with preserving freedoms of property owners in the village and outside of it. Either way, creating a healthy discourse may do more for building discussions and showing that we are a progressive community than taking sides ever could.

At the end of the day, there will always be those for and against the issue, just like there would be with any issue, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we are neighbors, friends, coworkers and community works who are all looking out for what’s best for our community.