Mark Sherman: What can I do?

Mark-Sherman SQUAREAs usual at this time of year, I take a break from humor and talk about serious matters. As you might imagine, most of my talk and thoughts during a typical day is indeed about serious stuff. There is a lot to be serious (and, to be honest, quite distressed) about.

But as a husband, father, grandfather, psychologist, former teacher and concerned citizen, I feel it is my role not simply to talk about upsetting matters, and to think about them, but to offer some hope. These days, the latter often seems in rather short supply.

There are so many places you could go with upset these days: economic inequality, climate change, gender relations, race relations, threats of terrorism and threats to health. Where to begin? I think the temptation for many of us is to throw the covers over our heads and stay in bed.


But eventually you do have to get out of bed, so what do you do?

First, using that bumper sticker slogan, “Think globally, act locally,” try applying that in the most local way you can — i.e., right in your own home. I heard a guy say the other day, that when people started talking about their upset over economic disparities, and said to him, “We need a revolution,” he said, “I’m not interested in a revolution. I just want to be as good a husband and father as I can be.”

Selfish? I don’t think so. Think about it: If everyone who could do so put their family’s well-being first, what would that mean? For one thing, it would mean less father absence; the benefits of that — of millions of children not growing up in father-absent homes — would be enormous. And it would mean, for all of us, understanding that our children do come first, and anything we can do to be worthy roles models for them is all for the good.

Now the man who made that comment I quote above has the fortunate situation of being able to provide for his family, but there are plenty of people who also have the means to do so, but don’t — whether financially, emotionally, or both. We don’t know exactly what harm comes from households where one or both parents are not responsible or even there, but we know there is damage. Parents who are truly there for their children are heroes. They should never be taken for granted.

Of course, there are so many individuals and families that are in distress, economic and otherwise, and there’s much we can do here: There are charities to give to, food pantries at which we can volunteer, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and on and on.

But many of us want to do something beyond our families and even helping those less fortunate than we are. And here too there is nothing wrong with acting locally. I don’t know why some people get involved with their communities and others do not, but as someone who has, I can say that it feels good to do so. Not always. Sometimes it is very frustrating. But I would not have stayed involved for more than 25 years if I felt that I had accomplished nothing.

Some people say, “What can I do? It’s so hard to make a difference.” On the state, national and international level, yes, it is — though I applaud anyone with aspirations in that direction. But one of the great things about living in a small community is that you definitely can, especially if you team up with a few other like-minded people. Even in that situation, it isn’t always easy, but I will tell you this: The feeling you get when you are part of a change for the better, especially after it has taken some work, is well worth it.

I was fortunate enough to be on the New Paltz Town Board when, through an effort by many people in the community, we — along with the Village Board and neighboring towns — were able to purchase the railroad right-of-way for a rail trail. This was back in the early 1990s. There was some opposition (what’s a democracy without some opposition?), but ultimately the land was purchased and the rail trail became a reality.

And, of course, there is plenty you can do beyond your community. You know that expression, “grassroots”? There’s nothing wrong with being part of a grassroots movement. For one thing, you meet some interesting people. And just as success on the local level feels great, so too does success beyond that.

As I was writing this, I heard that Governor Cuomo had just announced that he would not allow fracking in New York state. This ban was not a cause I actively worked for, but I was in support of those who did; I know many people have worked long and hard to block this potentially dangerous activity from being done in our state. How they must feel tonight! You just can’t get that feeling by always staying on the sidelines.

So whether it’s just being the best possible family member you can be, helping those less fortunate than you are, being involved in local issues, or being involved in those that are statewide, national or international, do something.

Happy holidays to all, and wishing everyone a healthy, happy, caring and involved 2015!