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updated: 11/24/2011 7:13 AM

Some 'things as they are' are also 'as they ought to be'

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In his "Devil's Dictionary," 19th century American author Ambrose Bierce described a "cynic" as "a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision."

I firmly believe that the only thing that should be plucked today is the holiday turkey. But dearly though I love Master Bierce, I do like on Thanksgiving Day to remind those cynics who focus on the negative portrait newspapers draw of humanity -- with our stories of murder, disaster, thievery and political intrigue -- that we also paint a rather compelling picture of things "as they ought to be."

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Here, in that spirit, are a few just from the past week alone that may help you see more clearly:

I know it's not fair to focus on the holidays, when people feel they have to be on their best behavior, but you can't ignore the lengths to which some of us will go to help out people in need. Our front-page story Wednesday told of agencies and individuals that are helping three specific families in need this holiday.

Consider this quote from one of the recipients, a mother of seven whose family lost their home two years ago:

"People heard our story and came out of the woodwork to help us. People who had never met us gave us blankets and clothes for the kids and a computer for our home."

How's that, cynics? Is your vision clearing up at all?

And just in case you think that people in harsh circumstances are happy to focus on the sad truth of "things as they are," consider this additional quote from that same mother, who, by the way, is a PTA volunteer and helps organize food and back-to-school clothing drives:

"We have been blessed as a family, so we don't mind sharing what little we do have to help those who have even less than we do."

Still need some evidence of the benevolence and decency of human beings?

Consider Cary Chessick of Arlington Heights. Business writer Anna Marie Kukec described on Monday how he put $500 of his own money into 40 envelopes and passed them out randomly to people at a workshop in New York where he, as founder of Restaurant.com, was speaking. He told the recipients they could keep the money or use it to "pay forward" and help others. Many did, including a cancer victim who founded a support website, and others who now are driving similar philanthropy through a free social network called TweetItForward.

Or maybe you should meet Al and Marge Engel, sweethearts practically since grade school, who, in addition to their devotion to each other, have spent the last 50 years volunteering in numerous capacities to help make their hometown, Roselle, a great place to live.

You also should consider Lea Minalga of Geneva. Her son appears to be beating his heroin addiction but that doesn't stop her from trying to help other families devastated by the insidious drug.

In Prospect Heights, the community turned out last weekend to honor wounded Afghanistan veteran Sgt. Ben Stehman. In Barrington, the Countryside Fire Protection District held a ceremony to honor a fallen colleague -- Nancy Fidler had served for 27 years before she died of cancer in April. In Arlington Heights, the Cowboys youth football organization created two scholarships in honor a former coach, Michael J. DeZonna, who died in October.

I could go on. Take a look at our website or the past week's papers -- or, especially, at today's front page featuring families who have experienced firsthand that, as poet Max Ehrmann said, "many people strive for high ideals."

So, cynics everywhere, take the day off, and remember that each day brings uplifting news as well as discouraging about your neighbors and your world.

Not that Bierce was entirely wrong, of course. And to be sure, his definition of today's centerpiece meal is also somewhat apropos. The turkey, he said, is a "large bird whose flesh when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude. Incidentally, it is pretty good eating."

Bon appétit.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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