Love your neighbor in 2019

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

If there’s one thing I learned after spending 25 days on a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s that I have no room for petty nonsense in my life anymore. 

When I write about the voyage (and I will soon, I promise), I’ll share some of the life-changing insights one gains after crossing an ocean. At the top of the list, however, is letting go of those small details that seem to put a stink on all our best efforts to live a decent life.

Sure, I know, it sounds like a worn-out platitude, or an inspirational message written in a fine serifed font on a poster: “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” But it’s absolutely true. Which is especially ironic because my job, quite literally, is to sweat every tiny detail.

Each and every week, I find myself living with a magnifying glass pointed right at my biggest flaws, my misstatements, my mistakes. Each week I try to impress upon my staff the importance of checking and double-checking facts and details so that we are not presenting misleading or false information to the reading public. That is part and parcel what it is to run a newspaper. 

Since I decided to bring this alt-weekly back from the dead in January, 2015, I have very much given up my private life, my peace and quiet, my creative writing endeavors. I love my job and love this community, but I often find myself bristling at the fact that I am forced to live with one foot in the public sphere, awaiting the positive and negative reactions that are lobbed my way at odd times throughout the week.

While positive feedback has always outnumbered negative, it’s the mean emails, phone calls and statements that often stick with me the longest. Like when I agree to moderate a candidates’ forum and spend hours of my spare time without being paid, only to have a husband and wife tell me: “You are a disgrace and should be ashamed to show your face in this town,” after I had to temerity to ask a question about their favorite candidate’s voting record. Or when I spend weeks and weeks researching an article, checking facts, even running it by our legal-minded friends, only to be made the subject of a threatening robocall labeling me as a “cancer” that needs to be “burned out” of this town in which I was born and raised and have lived in most of my life.

It’s easy to let these negative interactions fester inside, building up until they billow out in an uncontrolled manner. It’s easy to forget about the beautiful moments in life when the loud, bloviated voice of negativity drowns them out. What is truly difficult is holding your head high in the midst of such pettiness and continuing to set a good example, no matter what the pushback. 

One thing I’ve been grateful to my mom for is her indefatigable positive attitude. She has always been able to find something good in every situation. I am going to try to emulate her a bit more in 2019. I’m going to let the negative nonsense go and try to embrace the good in life as much as I can.

Which brings me to the title of this article: Love your neighbor in 2019. That’s the starting point. That’s the simplest beginning. We all fly different flags. We all find ourselves passionate about different subjects. We all have different pet peeves and secret loves. We are all so different, but really, when you peel back the superficiality, we are all the same. We wake up and face the world that often feels against us, but our hopes and dreams often run parallel to one another. We all want respect, we all want to be able to spend time with our friends and family, we all want to feel like our lives matter.

They do. Each and every one of you has something to offer. Why not offer the best of yourself instead of the worst? Why not try to improve someone else’s day instead of making it worse? Why not love our neighbors for who they are – for their differences, for their quirks, for their jagged edges – instead of hating them for who they aren’t?

Ben Olson is the publisher and co-owner of the Sandpoint Reader. He just returned from sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from Madeira to Antigua. Life was simpler 1,000 miles away from land. Much simpler.

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