Of a Valuable Life, and Other Things

I read. A lot.

I used to read books, magazines, and newspapers. The Internet changed my reading habits, because I can now access so much information so easily. With a few mouse clicks, I can gather articles and columns that interest me through email, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Reader.

Every now and then, I come across something that affects me so deeply I feel compelled to share it. That happened this morning. This column: Cal Thomas’ tribute to his brother is eloquent. 

The simple connection is Down syndrome. My niece, Jennifer, has Down syndrome. She will graduate from high school soon. I served on the state Board of Directors for Special Olympics of Virginia for six years. These athletes, their families and friends, and those they inspire, remind me always of the incredible potential and spirit we all have, if we simply care for and support each other.

When I finished wiping the tears from my cheeks, I started thinking about other things. Important things.

 Cal Thomas is a conservative political columnist. His column appears two or three times a week in my local paper (The Virginian-Pilot –the online edition). I usually disagree with his point of view, often vehemently.

I read this morning’s paper in my usual way, front to back, skimming the headlines, and clicking open articles that interested me. By the time I reached the Opinion section, I’d read about the myriad forms of war, crime, and violence we humans have created, to name-calling and insults from Republican presidential contenders to candidates for governor to local school board politics. What we call news, all of which must morbidly fascinate me because I follow it all intently.

I wasn’t prepared for Mr. Thomas’s column. I unconsciously expected his usual commentary from his generally hardline conservative point of view. Instead, Mr. Thomas reminded me how much we all have in common, and how important it is to remember what we share in our humanity even as we debate our differences.

I’ve been asked many times why I read columns written by those with whom I disagree. The simple answer is that it’s the only way to understand my own feelings on a subject. Mr. Thomas’ column is a good example. I read his column regularly, because he is a skilled writer and because he is articulate, explaining his reasoning in a way I can understand and respect. He challenges me to think and feel, and in my reaction to his writing, I discover something about myself.

The second reason I read widely is more subtle. I grew up in an era without cable television and the Internet, when most people accessed their news through a limited number of sources – newspapers, magazines, television, and radio. Most news sources consciously honored the principle of balanced coverage, which meant that Americans heard a range of thinking on the important subjects in our society whether we realized it or not.

Technology has proven a doubled-edged sword when it comes to information flow. We have never had more open access to more information, nor have we ever had greater ability to screen out the thoughts of those with whom we disagree. When we don’t reach out to those with whom we disagree, the only outcome is distrust and division.

By sharing his love for his brother and his parents, Mr. Thomas reminded me that more powerful forces unite us than divide us, and we are each living a valuable life.

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