The phone rang, the starting bell to the week in the office.
I recognized the voice. It was George, a frequent writer of letters to the editor; consistent caller who needles, suggests and prods; a reader who is a well-meaning nudge.
“Yea, Georgie, what can I do for you?”
The call was a welcome surprise to start my final week at The Times Leader. Do anything long enough and you get to know your customers. George is one of a few people who speaks freely with me. Familiarity in this case has bred diminutive nicknames: Joey, Georgie. No other readers call me Joey, and I’m not so casual with others who call.
“I read your column,” George said. “Do you believe it? Does this area have a chance?”
Last Sunday my column was full of optimism about what we can achieve if we try. George was challenging me about the possibility anything can be changed.
I don’t know if he called to hear my answer or tell me his opinion. Or give me a parting shot. Maybe all three. That’s Georgie.
The truth is I don’t know the answers to such questions. Can the problems of the area be fixed? I don’t know. I’m not a seer; I’m a newspaper editor. We gather the news and put it together into a package each day — and throughout the day as we move through a digital age. We get some insight but not that much more than the average well-informed person.
So I don’t know.
But I can tell you what I believe.
I think the answer to our problems as a society is the personal effort each person invests in his or her life, the devotion to our family and our community. (Include in community school, faith-based organizations and volunteer, charitable and social organizations that contribute to the greater good.)
Each of us needs to lead a good life with reasonable expectations about material rewards.
Each of us needs to have a willingness to take part.
None of us is compelled to have this personal responsibility, but I believe we all should.
As examples, failing to be a responsible parent, failing to help a neighbor, and failing to vote knowledgeably during elections are failing your community and yourself.
That’s what I believe.
When I started at The Times Leader I was handed a piece of paper torn from a spiral notebook with words typed onto the rules:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge.
I don’t remember who gave it to me. My impression is everyone received this quote typed on a sheet of paper.
I kept it, figuring that someday I’d understand.
I think I do now.
I also understand some healthy pessimism about the ability of this area to improve. Detrimental politics continue in our school boards and in our municipal and county government. In the short time since an outrageous corruption scandal ripped through the entire community, little seems to have changed. Where’s the hope in that? It’s easy to be cynical about Luzerne County.
Well, everything worthwhile requires effort. Changing the structure of of our government and the checks and balances of our court system was easy. Changing a culture requires the commitment of a lifetime. It requires individual commitment to personal responsibility. It requires more than what we do now.
And there will be no cavalry. There is no white knight. We are the solution, each of us.
I can’t change everyone else. But I can commit myself, and with persistence, maybe influence a few other people.
That’s my choice.
So yes, George, I believe there’s a chance. Are you with me?