Kevin MacMillan: A tale of two weeks
September 2, 2014
As you read this week's column, I'm lost in the desert in Black Rock City, attending the Burning Man festival for the first time ever.
While I can only imagine the stories I'll share from that experience, I wanted to spend my opinion space this week sharing some reader feedback on my last two columns, to show how the phrase "what a difference a week makes" really means a lot.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Robin Williams' death and battling depression, while sharing some of my own battles and encouraging others that it's OK to talk about problems, and that there is always someone willing to listen.
The feedback I received was immense and extremely thankful. Here are just a few examples from emails from readers:
• "Hey Kevin — just wanted to say thanks for writing such an honest piece about Robin Williams as well as your own struggles. It takes a lot of courage to share publicly like that, but I think it does a world of good for giving others permission to open up as well. Great work."
• "Kevin, thank you for being so brave in your column. Depression is such a tough thing to talk about, but I agree, the more we can be open about it, the better all who are dealing with it will be in the long run. I have lost dear friends to suicide because of their sense that it wouldn't get better. But I hope to raise my kids to understand that no matter how dark at times, there is always light. Life is always changing and that's OK. Thank you."
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• "Kevin, I really want to commend you personally on your article about depression in today's Sierra Sun for being so candid and forthright. My family has suffered with depression and suicide and your "truth" was a tremendous surprise and point of illumination that made my day. Kudos to you Kevin. You may have saved a life and you certainly brought reason and clarity to an often misunderstood and underrated mental health issue. Thank You."
I couldn't have been more thankful with this feedback, and not for one second because of the "kudos for Kevin" — but for the fact people agree that the topic of depression is one we need to discuss more openly.
In the end, regardless of one's opinions on my columns, if messages like these have an ability to stick and help others, then I am eternally grateful.
Fast forward to last week, when I wrote a much more opinionated item about the Ice Bucket Challenge. While I applauded the challenge's motivations for helping raise money for the ALS Foundation, I criticized those who choose to waste water by doing it, considering we're in the deep depths of the current Western drought.
Some of the feedback I received was quite different from the week before. Here's a sample:
• "I had to take a moment to comment on the idiotic statement made by the editor of the Sun. I can't believe you are telling people not to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge because it is a waste of water!!!! The minuscule amount of water being dumped is far outweighed by the good it is doing for ALS research. Thank goodness no one in their right mind will heed your misguided advice."
• "I was appalled and disappointed in your column regarding the current ALS Ice Bucket Challenge! This challenge which seems to appear silly to you is about raising awareness for one of the most devastating and debilitating diseases a person can suffer from … Attention needs to be paid to this disease and the Ice Bucket Challenge that you callously dismiss has raised more money in the short span of time it has been circulating than has been raised in the entire time since Lou Gehrig gave his famous speech at Yankee Stadium some 75 years ago. You put the small amount of water used in this challenge over the lives and very real suffering of people. Most people I know have taken the challenge on their lawns, which need watering, or in a river as I did or in the lake as my son did…"
• "… If you're going to get (religious) on water waste, use your pen to get after corporations dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons on (golf) courses that turn it into grass or evaporation so it never gets back into the groundwater tables or into our streams and lakes. Making people feel crappy about a seriously successful $23 million campaign to make a point about water waste is the wrong way to go about it, IMO … we're talking about a column in a newspaper supported by ad money from those water-wasting corporations. Personal accountability is fine, but if you're going to decide to take on water waste, (use) your position as an editor to do it, pick on the big boys a little bit…"
Likewise, I couldn't be more thankful for this kind of feedback. It allowed me to see some different sides of the story, as well as gain a better understanding of how people can react to opinion pieces.
To be clear, my message in last week's column was for people to stop wasting water. I was not encouraging people to waste money, however, as I very much encourage donating to the ALS Foundation. I included a link to the donate page in both the print and online version of the column, and I applaud what the challenge as done so far in raising millions of dollars.
I myself chose to donate to the ALS Foundation, because I feel that's the true point of the challenge, and I continue to encourage others to do so by visiting alsa.org/donate/.
Our newspapers are meant to provide a forum for public discussion and opinions, so I say keep the feedback coming — whether good or bad, perceived as positive or negative — as it's very much appreciated.
— Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.