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Lois M. Collins: Will you be a source of joy in someone's life?

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Steve Helber, Associated Press

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The yard was slowly falling into disrepair, the grass raggedy, the roses overgrown. In this house, the man has been recuperating from a major surgery and the woman has been working as many extra hours and odd jobs as she could find to pay for medications and other related costs. Those were added expenses at a time when his income was no longer available.

It was a temporary situation, while he regained health after a car crash. His recovery was going to take time.

I relate to them because we've had that kind of year ourselves.

When I called her recently to see how things are going, she told me that a neighbor had called the city where they live to complain about the yard.

She got lucky. The city worker who came out to see didn't just leave a citation, but knocked on her door. Her husband answered, thin and pale, and explained their situation.

The worker said the yard had to be kept up — and that he would personally take care of it on Saturday.

"He told my husband, 'I'm sorry for your troubles,'" my friend said, a light catch in her voice. "And he came back and did it."

It was not very long before they were able to resume caring for their own yard. But at that moment, it had been impossible. And what could have been an added sorrow turned into an unexpected bit of pleasure for the couple, although it's probably not what the neighbor had in mind.

It's funny what happens when someone takes time to care, to knock, to ask what's going on, instead of muttering and phoning in an anonymous complaint.

I once worked with someone who wrote critiques of other peoples' articles and sent them up the chain of command, filled with questions about why the reporter didn't do this or that. Had he asked any of us — or courtesy-copied us on the complaints — we could have explained. He did neither. I always learned what he said about my work secondhand, which was too bad, because whether I was right or wrong, I at least always had a reason for how I'd handled a story. And instead of helping make each of us a little better reporter, he made himself a bit of a joke.

He complained about my article on children who sabotage their own futures. I quoted mostly experts and didn't showcase a particular child. He was right that it would have been a more dramatic story, but I couldn't quite picture the conversation leading up to it: "Can I hold you up as an example of appalling judgment and tell everyone about your mistakes? It'll be a great story."

Yet, as much as I dislike the neighbor's anonymous complaint or the backhanded approach to "helping" me do better at my job, if I really think about it, I probably do similar things to others. I'm certainly not shy about leaping to conclusions or voicing them.

My world has become a little too "anything goes" in terms of basically bad behavior, and it's reflected everywhere I look, from TV shows that have few brakes on crudeness and rudeness to politicians and pundits who will say whatever makes their point, even if it's not accurate or constructive.

My friend and coworker, Gerry Avant, recently pointed out that you can swear up a storm and use God's name derisively and it's protected speech. Say it reverently in a public place and you're deemed way out of line.

I can't do much about others. But I'm going to decide what I will be — hopefully, the unexpected source of joy, not the bad taste from a neighbor's carping.

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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