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posted: 3/9/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Let's put positive ideas On the Table

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Just last week, controversy erupted over a new social media app called Yik Yak.

The app allows users to post anonymous comments, and school leaders in particular got so worried about the applicability for bullying that many sent warnings to parents and banned use of the app in schools.

"Sadly, we have found that this app is allowing students to verbally abuse each other as well as faculty," wrote Barry Rodgers, principal at Lake Forest High School.

Meanwhile, ABC 7 reported, the makers of Yik Yak have disabled it in the Chicago area while they search for solutions.

An unfortunate new rage? Regrettably, not. You don't have to look far to find critics bemoaning the widespread use of Twitter to demean and belittle.

It's all too real to us too. When we initially launched story commenting on years ago, we were optimistic it would be a boon to public discourse. The anonymous nature of it, however, led to a large amount of cynical and hurtful abuse.

We've taken steps to improve the commenting system -- outlawing, as much as possible, anonymity as one major step -- and it's much better now. But oh, the scars of all that past negativity.

Of course, you don't have to look simply at public commenting to see negativity. It so often steals the spotlight in political campaigns and in political discussions.

It is so easy to descend into cynicism, and almost all of us do it at least from time to time. And it is so easy to emphasize what's wrong rather than on what can make it right, to become preoccupied with perceived motivations rather than on the merits of arguments and the measuring sticks of results.

Given all that, what a relief we find in the approach the Chicago Community Trust is taking with its plans for myriad On the Table conversations throughout the region on May 12.

At breakfasts and lunches and dinners throughout the area, civic leaders and everyday people will be taking part in small-group discussions aimed at improving communities.

What a wonderful approach. We're excited about the idea and challenged by the calling. It fits right in with our underlying mission to make the world a little bit better place, and we'll be hosting several of these conversations.

The fundamental beauty of the concept is just this:

The focus of conversations will not be about what's wrong with our communities. The focus will be about what we can do to make them better.

As the Community Trust advises, we will be asking what the characteristics of successful communities are. And what we need to do to make our communities more successful.

How thrilling is that? Let's decry less what is bad. Let's work together more to build something good. The idea takes our breath away.

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