When world seems dark, take a look at the stars


November 26, 1995|By Brian Sullam

THANKSGIVING IS A wonderful time for reflection.

With a belly full of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie and whipped cream, it's hard to do much more than plop down in a comfortable chair, let the digestive juices do their work and think.

Even though our country has never been more prosperous and peaceful in recent memory, a widespread feeling of discontent has descended on us.

According to numerous public opinion polls, people believe the nation is messed up and headed in the wrong direction. Many of us feel uneasy about the future.

On a collective basis, however, this country has never been in better shape.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear warfare has become a dim memory.

From a statistical standpoint, the nation's economy hasn't been in better shape. We are completing the third year of an economic recovery. Inflation is under control and shows little sign of returning. Interest rates are stable and relatively low. National unemployment has dropped to a low level.

Comforting statistics

Here in Carroll County, the news is equally encouraging.

Just leafing through the briefing book that county budget officials assembled for the New York bond rating agencies reveals much encouraging data.

More county residents are working than ever. Unemployment has dropped to 3.5 percent.

In terms of income, Carroll households are better off than ever. The median household income -- $49,126 in 1994 -- has risen 38 percent in the past eight years. In the Baltimore metro region, only Howard's ($59,690) and Anne Arundel's ($49,536) are greater than Carroll's.

Just about half of the county's population has buying power of over $50,000 -- which includes household income and available credit through credit cards, home equity credit lines and other unsecured credit. The national average is about half that amount.

For people who own their homes and farms, their property values continue to climb. Over the past 10 years, the annual increase of the county's total assessable base has averaged about 9.5 percent. Some property owners have seen their values increase at even a faster rate.

Looking beyond the abstract numbers presented to the number crunchers at bond houses, there are many other examples of Carroll's high quality of life.

Carroll's school system is the envy of the state. Student performance continues to improve. As measured by the students' scores on standardized tests, the county's public schools are among the best in the state. More high school students are graduating and continuing their educations than ever before. Fewer are dropping out.

Collectively, life for the majority of Carroll's residents is good and getting better.

For some individuals living in this county, however, life is not so pleasant. People have lost their jobs. Businesses have failed. Others have been victimized by criminals. Some people are addicted to drugs or alcohol or both. For others, their children are not doing well in school or have dropped out.

But as we reflect on life in Carroll at this point in history, we should have a warm, comfortable feeling of contentment.

Yet, many Carroll residents seem to have a perpetual knot in their stomachs. For them, life in this county has never been worse. They can see only the county's problems -- of which, unfortunately, there are plenty.

Part of the problem may be that we have been conditioned to expect the worst and have lost our perspective. Luckily for us, in this country the worst never seems to happen. We always seem deal with our problems.

Political differences are settled peacefully and not by military coups. Despite ever-widening social and economic differences, we don't have eruptions of class, ethnic or religious wars that regularly engulf other countries around the world.

Lack of perspective

Even though we may complain about the difficult lives we lead, we really don't have it that tough.

Few of us really have known hunger. Few of us have had to live without shelter. Few of us have been persecuted or killed because of our race, religion or political beliefs. Few of us worry about the government arbitrarily taking our property, our freedom or our lives.

We really have a great deal to be thankful for. We are fortunate people, yet so many of us complain about our lives.

When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to blacks struggling to obtain their civil rights, he liked to remind his audiences that "only when it is dark enough do you see the stars."

Most of us are fortunate enough to be able to see the stars when it isn't even dark.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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