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Minnich: Small gifts, kind acts don’t divide, restrict liberties or challenge faith | COMMENTARY

Is anyone else seeing the irony in the whole mass murders, gun controls, mental illnesses stew spattering news pages and TV broadcasts every day?

My thoughts today are inspired by street video of a man knocking an elderly woman to the sidewalk in broad daylight, kicking her repeatedly in the face and head, and casually walking away. No one stepped in to help her; eventually, she was treated at a hospital for significant injuries.

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The violence was caught for sharing on any personal device all over the world. It was so chillingly mindless. Big man, small woman, brutal attack. And then he casually walked away.

Mindless indeed. The man arrested several days after the attack and charged was convicted in 2002 of stabbing his own mother to death and was out of prison on parole.

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The irony is that he was not warehoused in a mental hospital: We are too civilized for that.

It was the compassionate and socially aware thinkers of the mid-1900s who brought about the closing of mental wards in the country and main-streaming some people with serious problems into the general population. Many live on the streets or in camps. Well-intentioned big causes to bring about changes with unintended consequences. For reasons often noble, we fix the engine but sink our boat.

Or we fix one boat only to sink another, in a continuing saga of the eternal conflict of “us” versus “them.”

Which “Them?” Depends on which “Us” flies your flag. Taking sides too often degenerates from sharing ideas for progress to absolutist preaching without listening.

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I have an idea, and you can take it or leave it: How about we just sit back individually for a moment and make our own private list of what absolutely must happen for people with different values and interests to continue to live and let live in America.

First things first, polish off that concept: Live and let live. That means knowing when to mind your own business, and when to make something your business, and I mean taking ownership of action, and not just mouthing off with an opinion or joining a movement because our friends are doing that.

I’m not advocating apathy. We could use a lot more commitment to fixing what’s broken, but we need to consider what is not ours to fix. Some of us could do more and last longer with fewer regrets if we approached social change within our own limitations — and allowed the same courtesy to others.

The heroes of today’s social movements are not burning anything or assaulting anyone in the streets or forming militias. They’re creating community gardens in neighborhoods where fresh vegetables are scarce. They may be delivering food to shut-ins, volunteering in soup kitchens, tending to the least able or the less apparent needs of those who have been passed over by circumstances they never comprehended.

What they do is humanize and bring big issues down to personal, peaceful actions. It’s about people, not causes.

With all the deficiencies we see every day, it would be easy to make things better in small ways that would add up. Begin with buying a couple of oranges or apples and just carrying them around in a poke and offering them at random to anyone you feel inclined to share it.

There are those who will say that’s not enough, too passive, or that not everyone likes apples, or oranges.

But just maybe that small surprise will be the joy of the day for two human beings — you and the recipient. If they say they have enough oranges, invite them to pass it along to someone who might feel good just at the thoughtfulness of small courtesies. Perhaps that small sample of personal activism will inspire a ripple effect that will spread in the neighborhood, the community, and beyond.

Perhaps one encounter will inspire a future grocery store investor.

A simple gift or kind act can create a good feeling, encourage mindfulness, and listening, and keep on giving.

Change will grow.

It’s a start, it does not divide, it doesn’t restrict liberties or challenge faith. And if it does offend someone, let them live with that. They just need time.

Dean Minnich, who retired from a career in journalism and served two terms as a county commissioner, writes from Westminster. His column runs Thursdays. Email him at Dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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