In praise of petty problems



In a different life at a different newspaper, I covered a pleasant town of mostly good, relatively civic-minded people. There were a few cranks and criminals thrown in, but you can’t have a town without at least some cranks and criminals.

Up the road was another town that I dare say was just as picturesque with a more or less equal distribution of fine folks and a smattering of less-desirables.

I was a newcomer to the area, so I didn’t have a rooting interest one way or another.

For some longtime residents, real hatred – or something as close as to be indistinguishable – existed between the towns. A win for one was considered a loss for the other.

This mutual distaste didn’t involve everyone, and I never witnessed violence because of it, but there was such unexpected pettiness.

For instance, the Department of Environmental Quality had a program to collect all the castaway tires in the county.

This was a beautiful part of the country, but a number of its residents saw nothing wrong with throwing trash wherever it landed.

Certain creeks and ditches became impromptu dumping grounds overnight, and you didn’t have to look far to find whole or shredded tires in someone’s yard or along a right-of-way.

The two towns needed to work together to choose a central place to store the tires until DEQ picked them up for disposal at no charge to anyone but the taxpayers.

As the mayor of one town told me, “This is a gift. DEQ is giving us a gift.”

It would seem like a no-brainer, especially since these events happened in the days before Tea Party politics, when government spending to improve quality of life wasn’t as despised as it is today.

But the mayor had to work to convince the city council of the program’s value.

The problem?

The opposing town would be able to store its used tires at the host town’s site. That wasn’t fair, councilmen said.

I was a younger man then, so much so that I was shocked by the difficulty of implementing a plan that seemed to be a win-win.

What I didn’t take into account was how human we all are – terribly and wonderfully human.

Now, I know I should’ve been happy that the towns weren’t firing rockets at each other.

World history and current events remind us how truly nasty two different groups of people can be toward one another.

No matter how contentious things got between those towns with mostly good people, they were dealing with a small issue.

Maybe it’s better for us to expend our energy over tiny squabbles, leaving us too tired to start real, life-altering trouble.

We’re lucky to have our petty problems because they’re the kind that will shrink to nearly nothing when we’re unlucky enough to have big problems come our way.

Click video to hear audio