I made a mistake once.

Let me rephrase that.

Once, when I’d made a mistake, I was beating myself up about it.

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At the time, I was graphics editor of The Press. My boss, knowing that I lived in a world of charts and graphs, drew a bar chart for me. There were two bars. One, the depth of the page, was labeled “The Hindenburg.” The other, so small that it couldn’t be distinguished from the baseline, was labeled “Tim’s mistake.”

In other words, he gave me what I needed at the time: perspective.

Yes, newspapers hate mistakes. But no, this one wasn’t something I needed to do any more penance over. I just needed to learn from it and sin no more. And I needed to remember that this mistake, like a lot of things that seem very important at the time, really wasn’t earth-shattering.

I think about this sometimes when I’m editing The Press opinion pages.

I’m proud of the fact that the Voice of the People, where we run letters from readers, is a place for civil discourse, a place where people can disagree about issues, and make their case respectfully.

There aren’t too many places like that left. Most public forums seem to have an agenda. Talk radio hosts love callers who disagree with them, and by that I mean they love to ridicule them. And even their on-air shouting matches are mild in comparison to the abuse you see regularly in the anonymous comment sections online.

For the most part, our letter writers are a civil bunch, concentrating on the issues, rather than personal attacks.

But some folks are so absolutely certain of both the rightness and the importance of their position that they seem to lack perspective, something we could all use.

My hope is that it will make your problems, and your issues, seem less significant. But don’t let it make you think you’re insignificant. Without folks like us to wonder at such things, somebody would have gone to a lot of trouble for nothing.

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