I’ve read newspapers ever since I could read. My working-class childhood home subscribed to three — from New York City, from North Jersey and the local paper.
Yet now, after several decades of reading and then working for newspapers, I’ve developed a new, deeper appreciation for letters to the editor.
It’s an unexpected occupational benefit. As editorial page editor, I read every letter we publish (and the small number that don’t meet our criteria) at least twice.
In the three years I’ve been doing this, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the great range of voices, thoughts, feelings, expression, personality, experience, circumstances — if it can be conveyed in a letter, it will be done in different ways by the fine people who write to their fellow community members.
And taken together, all these Voice of the People letters make a vivid portrait of the people in our community and what’s on their mind.
On New Year’s Day, as part of my semi-idleness, I read through the 1,000 or so letters published in The Press last year.
Calling attention to a problem or issue and suggesting a solution or way to think about it seems like the most frequent purpose of letter writers. Often this adds to an existing conversation the community is having about how to make something better or what local government should do. But writers also regularly bring a new matter to the attention of their fellow readers.
Another large group of letters focus on approving or disapproving of Donald Trump. That’s unsurprising given the widespread obsession (including by the media) with endlessly rendering judgment about the unconventional candidate who became an unconventional president.
Then as summer ended, New Jersey’s fall election campaign got the attention of many letter writers, who made their cases for or against the candidates in the region.
Sprinkled among these throughout last year were letters that stepped back a little and offered views not on some problem or partisan issue, but on who we are and how we’re doing. To me they’re like a local version of the Thought for the Day we print on the Opinion page,
Here are excerpts from a few of my favorites in 2017:
“We have become a judgmental society and we are quick to react negatively before we know all the facts. My wish for the new year is for peace and compassion.” — Debbie Schurman of Northfield
“I have seen more fake items on the internet recently than true information. When I hold a printed newspaper in my hands, I know my fellow residents also see what I am holding.” — Jack Kammer of Cape May.
“We all are easily misled by our passions. Feelings are so overrated today. That is understandable for the young. Unfortunately, I belong to Donald Trump’s generation. And we seem to be taking forever to grow up.” — Jim Tweed of Ocean City
“The garbage that this country’s entertainment industry puts out is surely leading its young people down the wrong lane. … The tragedy of humanity today is not that people cannot find happiness, but that they look for it in all the wrong places. My many, many years have allowed me to experience many different aspects of life. I served the country during three wars, and after that was able to obtain a more formal education, and spent my working years as a certified purchasing manager, which gave me a greater look at life’s experiences. My retirement years have been spent in volunteering. … Truth shall eventually prevail and that’s what really counts. Take it from one who has had a great life and been married for 67 years, and is still here, and still seeking truth and knowledge.” — John L. Seubert of Cape May
It’s reassuring to know there are people sorting out conflicts, advancing understanding, aspiring to better love their fellow humans and the world.
I marvel at the community producing this great variety of letters — so many differentiated people, about 500,000 in our eastern Jersey Shore region, pursuing their lives, overcoming challenges the best they can, finding pleasure, enduring suffering and affirming life in their way.
People in the newspaper business have long thought it’s kind of a miracle every day that the thousands of necessary tasks big and small somehow get done to produce the newspaper.
That is a tiny part of what the people in our community pull off each day.
Then I look beyond and realize that there are more than 300 million Americans and approaching 8 billion people on Earth, each a little different and each uniquely experiencing the inestimable value of human life.
It’s a miracle that so many can do so much and pursue such different interests so well. Life must be pretty pleased with its human version.
Email Kevin Post at email@example.com.