OPINION: In primary schools they have a phrase. Kids are sometimes "caught being good".
It's a praiseworthy alternative to being caught being bad. It means that something well done didn't go unnoticed.
Journalists will tell you that catching southerners being good can sometimes take every bit as much work, if not moreso, than the unhappier alternative.
Yesterday's report of Riverton man Joe Dawson's "dig out" from his mates was a case in point, and not because anyone was being a jerk. The story itself was all sorts of heartening. Left blind after an accident followed by a medical incident, the former sawmill worker needed a new roof and people stepped up. Not really a complicated story, you'll agree.
Much as this was the sort of act that epitomises the community spirit we have down here, there was something every bit as typical about the reaction when people became aware we had found out about it.
The paper was chasing it as a story? It was all a bit mortifying. Staunch southerners suddenly feeling embarrassed. It certainly wasn't as if Mr Dawson had gone looking for a handout. Or that Rivertonians were feeling skitey or self-satisfied.
It took several weeks to land that story and we're aware that it entailed a fair bit of genuine discomfort all round. Much as we could say it was a chance to thank people, let's be honest - the thanks and the "you're welcomes" had already been traded and with real sincerity.
The concern was that we were going to amplify it; this personal thing between a man and his community. (And now an editorial? Sheesh.)
Well, kudos for all concerned - but it's not just about giving full credit.
A large part of the good that these stories serve is that at heart they are less about anybody's loss of independence than a reminder of our interdependence.
Mr Dawson wasn't wrong when he said of the people around him that "helping out is just what they do". But it's no less important to accept help than to give it, particularly because it is the nature of community life that needs will often change and the same bunch of people will sooner or later need to reposition the roles with someone else the abashed-but-grateful centre of attention.
Each person who accepts help with head held high is in turn helping the next person who will be in that position. And so it goes. To accept community acts of generosity in good spirit becomes, itself, an act of generosity.
Sometimes legitimate need can require a great many helpers, particularly in cases where expensive medical treatment is needed and fundraising appeals must be made. This can entail a focus of public attention at the most stressful and difficult times imaginable.
Or it can be as easy and convivial a matter as those cheerful gatherings that are sometimes called to thank volunteers in our midst.
Whatever the scale, the most hard-headed journalists know that shining examples of community spirit are no less legitimate news for being good news. We really do need to encourage one another in such things. It helps keep people's antennae up for the the next opportunity to do some good.
And we're happy to report it happening whenever we can. Sometimes, because of the need to prioritise resources, those reports may be just a tad smaller and less prominent than other times. But there are some folk around Riverton way who will probably tell you there are positives and negatives whichever way it goes.
- The Southland Times
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