Sunday, January 26, 2020

Get involved in event and help clean up afterward

Boston is a city of neighborhoods. There's the city proper, but Boston also encompasses Roxbury, Dorchester, the South End, South Boston, Allston Brighton, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Charlestown, Back Bay, Bay Village, West Roxbury, Roslindale, the North End, Mattapan, Beacon Hill, East Boston and a handful of others whose residents will chide me for leaving them off the list. There are 23 neighborhoods in all, and each has its own personality.

But one constant in each of the neighborhoods is a plethora of signs and placards on trees, telephone poles, and occasionally a fence or two. The signs advertise everything from dog-sitting services and neighborhood yard sales to area concerts and political candidates.

Technically, the city frowns on the signs. One section of the city's official website dealing with "common code enforcement issues," there's this: "You can't post signs of any form in the City, including on city buildings, poles or traffic light posts, private property, or trees."

Nevertheless, the signs persist.

Often the signs persist long after the items featured on them have come and gone. That they linger irks one reader who lives in one of Boston's many neighborhoods.

"We've had an annual yard sale every fall in our neighborhood for at least the past 20 years," writes A.W. Responsibility for organizing the sale and getting signs up, maps made and social media notifications out has shifted frequently over the years.

For the past couple of years, A.W. writes that the organizers don't take down the dozens of signs they've posted on telephone poles and trees after the sale is over.

"Even three months later, I'm still seeing some posters for the sale."

At first, A.W. was reluctant to take a sign down that someone else had posted. But as the weeks wore on, the fading signs struck her as a bit of a blight and she began to take one down every time she ran into one.

"But I don't know where they were all put up," she writes.

"Shouldn't the organizers be responsible for making sure any signs they put up are taken down after the event?" asks A.W.

Yes, of course they should, and not just because they were likely violating city code by posting them in the first place. Leaving the signs up after the event concludes and allowing them to turn into neighborhood litter might suggest a lack of respect for the neighborhood.

The right thing is for the volunteer organizers to make plans to take the signs down. But because the signs concern A.W., there is a way for her to increase the likelihood that the problem is addressed at next year's sale.

A.W. indicates she looks forward to the neighborhood yard sale every year. She enjoys selling and buying stuff and schmoozing with neighbors and visitors who descend upon the neighborhood to shop. She's involved in the sale, but she has never been part of the team that organizes the event. Because she ends up removing some of the signs as she happens upon them after the event anyway, A.W. might want to volunteer to assist next year by being the person who removes the signs after the event.

Sometimes getting more involved yields desired results. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Be kind when no one is looking

As my senior project at Bethany College, I took the advice of John Taylor, an English professor who fancied himself a curmudgeon but was among the kindest and most supportive professors on campus to many of us.

He suggested I look at the maxims of the 17th century French writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld, to see if I could draw any parallels from his words to modern behavior.

Shortly after the new year, I came across one of La Rochefoucauld's maxims that has stuck with me many years after college: "When our hatred is too bitter it places us below those whom we hate." The sentiment seems to be timeless and particularly salient now. It's one that has been echoed by others in essays, comic strips, political stump speeches, commencement addresses and elsewhere.

If we stoop to hating that with which we disagree, we risk becoming far worse than the thing we hated.

One antidote to stooping to hatred is also timeless, although it too has often failed to make its way from words to actions, and that's the charge to be kind.

In his biography of the writer Henry James, Leon Edel writes about James' nephew Billy's recollection of his uncle saying, "Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind."

The quote is often attributed to Mister Rogers. Ellen DeGeneres regularly ends her daily television show with the admonition: "Be kind to one another." When I was invited to address the student body of Bethany College several years ago, the important message of being relentlessly kind was central to the talk I gave. I still believe so.

When small acts of kindness particularly to strangers are committed, they are often met with surprise, suggesting that making an effort to be kind is not yet the norm.

On two successive days this month, B.G. was surprised by kindness in Colorado where she lives. After she responded "not smooth" to the barista who asked her how her day was going, he responded with: "Well, then your drink is on me." A day later as B.G. was gathering her belongings from her car after she parked, a woman knocked on her window to let her know she was putting money in the parking meter for her. Two small acts that shifted B.G.'s mood about her day.

As B.G. put it, the acts "completely reframed my mindset."

"Kindness is powerful," B.G. observed.

Indeed, it can be. And I'm not talking about the type of kindness that results in finding your name splashed across local or national media because you paid off someone's tuition bill or you left a sizeable tip to a hardworking waiter. I'm not talking about doing good deeds because some research has found that doing so can result in reducing physical pain from which you might be suffering.

Those are indeed acts of kindness, but even more important are those which we commit with no expectation of anything in return.

Kindness can indeed prove powerful. The right thing is to be kind even when no one is looking. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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