Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © 1999 Brent C. Dickerson

"Fair words and foul deeds cheat wise men as well as fools."

   —John Florio, 1578

   Look some time at the efforts of your City Hall in the matter of civic architecture and statuary, and public parks and horticulture. City officials are in a proud and unique position. They have the ability in their hands to affect community spirit, and, thereby, social attitudes as a whole. I know that some may scoff at this and say, "What effect could a few marigolds and roses, a well-designed building, a statue of someone dead for a century whom nobody ever heard of—what worthwhile effect could these have on anyone, let alone on Society in general?".  And it is those people whom I address.

   Reader, have you ever gone to work on a gray day, passing through block after block of dreary city blocks, chain-link fences rusting and coming apart, broken bottles and trash littering the parking lot in which you park? You see buildings you do not want to look at twice, because they register a stark zero in beauty; and perhaps you work your long workday in a little dark cubicle, only to, at the end of the day, retrace in reverse the dreary route you suffered through that morning. As month passes month, and year passes year, how the natural brightness of life subsides under this onslaught of living death! You will not care about your city, because there is nothing to care about. Because the bankrupt environment gives nothing to you, your attitude will slowly buy into that bankruptcy, exchanging the bright coinage of life's potentialities for—dead nothing! And the people you meet, as you go on austere, "no hope can have no fear," their low expectations will, like your low expectations, prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy; it will be a struggle, and probably a losing one, to maintain civility in this uncivil atmosphere. Imagine this the fabric of everyday life—if you have to imagine it!

   Perhaps there is some vacant lot, some abandoned place, where a few weeds grow, if not some tough garden plant surviving the razing of some old home which, once beloved, fell upon hard times, gave in to the grayness, fell to the bulldozer. And in the midst of the gray, then, you see that some golden dandelion blooms, or a scarlet geranium struggles to greet you, growing between chunks of broken concrete. Indeed, perhaps it is simply the happy green-ness of the weeds themselves which are like an oasis to your spirit; they remind you that there is a natural beauty we can all tap into, if only it were made available to us. And that lone, wonderful golden dandelion stays in your mind's eye all day, casting a bit of its golden rays on everything and everyone you see. Does that not give you a bit of hope? Aren't you a bit cheerier at this relief from the numbing gray disappointments of life? Doesn't it make you care a bit more about the city around you, the people you see?

   It is this, as an oasis or fountain of hope, that beauty in our lives serves. It nourishes our dreams, and reminds us of life's wonderful possibilities—quite so, it reminds us that we too can attain wonderful things, a reminder we sorely need in the face of the daunting struggles Life's journey brings us. Now, each of us strives to fill our homes with things which will similarly raise our spirits and satisfy our dreams; that much is usually within our power, though the most needy among us have little power to effect it. But, once we leave our homes, it is for those in charge of our city environments to teach us block by block of this hope we can have. Civic officials have, in their hands, and in their hands alone, the power to uplift our spirits, or to kill them, by the care they bestow or fail to bestow on the environment of our daily lives. They have in their power to give the needy what they cannot give themselves—a bit of beauty, a little hope. A wonderful park, with inviting and inspiring landscaping as well as interesting plants to intrigue the mind, can fill us with not only wonder at the munificence and art of Nature, but also with pride at the human efforts which harnessed and presented them to us. Our spirits can likewise soar with the towers, domes, and details of well-designed, attractive buildings, sending our imaginations aloft with their decorations, their turrets and gables, their spires pointing to the heavens full of hope. And I mentioned statues above. Reader, these, aside from their innate beauty, remind us that human beings can attain great things, that their accomplishments can defy death, and, most importantly, that we too have, like these heroes and heroines before us, a wide world of opportunity waiting for us, each one of us, to but stretch out our hands and become heroes and heroines ourselves.

   This, then, is the responsibility of civic and other governmental officials, to improve our Society by reminding us, where we cannot remind ourselves, of the hopes and possibilities which existence offers us. Many civic leaders—"leaders" in the best sense of the word—recognize this, and strive their utmost to fulfill the trust we voters have placed in them. But when they set this responsibility aside, they are failing in what touches us most deeply. They are killing our spirit.

   And so, Reader, investigate and consider carefully how your city officials spend your tax dollars. What have these elected officials to show for their incumbencies? Have they merely reacted to the hysterics of those perspectiveless special interest groups which pop up now and then, lurching from one "Concerned Citizen" to another, trying to please small minds of small compass? Or do they have a vision for their public service, some overarching plan which will leave the city and Society in general the better for their election? Look! Look at the buildings they give you, the streets, the statues, the public gardens. What is their legacy?

"By their fruits ye shall know them."

—Matthew 7:20

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