Lois M. Collins: Bad news can be opportunity to see best in folks

Published: Thursday, Dec. 15 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Mariah Burton, a Salvation Army Bell Ringer, watches as money is donated into the kettle at the Albertson's along University Parkway in Provo.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News archives

Enlarge photo»

A friend once told me that she doesn't like to read my articles, since so many of them are about people in crisis. Over the years, I've written extensively about child abuse, death and the sometimes drawn-out process of dying, substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, severe illness, fractured families and other admittedly sorrowful subjects.

"You are," she teased me gently, "the original bad news bear."

In my head, that's not what I'm covering at all. I cover the very best of what makes us human — the connections between people and the fact that we actually need each other quite desperately.

I was thinking about this last night as some co-workers headed out to shop for Christmas presents for needy kids, using money raised in a book sale. In this economy, there have been even more families in crisis than usual, while the resources to help have seemed somewhat more limited. Still, there were a lot of people at the store clutching little cards with information about an individual child as they perused the shelves to find the perfect something for someone they are very unlikely to ever meet.

This time of year is like that, viewed differently depending on whether you're a cup-half-full or cup-half-empty kind of person.

My cup is very nearly always full. And covering so-called bad news is an unbelievable opportunity to count up the progress, the victories, the grace and joy of being human.

It's a matter of viewpoint. You can see the ornaments with children's names on them, hanging from a tree — needy kids who won't have anything special on Christmas morning unless something is done. Or you can pay attention to hand after hand plucking one of those ornaments and loading a cart with gifts. No tax deduction. No hope of a personal thanks. No chance to see the smiles on Christmas morning. Just giving, done quietly, for the right reasons.

You can look at people who, as youths, allowed themselves to be caught up by drugs and all the mistakes they made while living that lifestyle, and you can certainly hold that past against them. Or you can marvel at the ones who got their acts together despite the odds and have gone on to make something of their lives. I've had the privilege of telling variations of that story a number of times now; it's one of my favorites.

Every time there's a story about someone with a severe medical need, I've witnessed an outpouring of good wishes or opportunities or prayer, all designed to bolster and strengthen.

You cannot completely tell the story of people who are homeless in a community without taking note of the programs that have been put together to hopefully help them get their footing again, the volunteers who provide food, the donors who provide money for medical supplies and electric bills at the shelters, the doctors and other health-care providers who man clinics.

There are grave sorrows in our world, such as some pretty staggering statistics on child abuse. Health and Human Services this week announced that its "Child Maltreatment 2010" report found once again a steady decline in the number of victims — but it's still a mind-boggling 754,000. And those are the cases that are known. It's hard to put a good spin on that one, no matter how hard I try.

Last month, my daughter was robbed. A friend replaced her iPod and a couple of others surprised her with a school-supply-ready backpack. She didn't get her notes back; they couldn't replace those. But they replaced what I didn't want her to lose: the belief that most people are actually quite lovely.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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