By DENNIS HARROD
A word has ignited a war of words on the letters to the editor page in The Sherburne News, a weekly newspaper in the next county over from where I live. The word that started the war begins with “F” and ends with “K.” It appears in very large letters on the main road into town. The “F word” is followed by “Biden.”
A letter to the editor a couple of months back objected to the F word, saying it was vulgar and not appropriate for school children to see as they pass by on the bus. The following week, the owner of the sign wrote her own letter and said that what was vulgar was the current deplorable condition of the country.
She said it’s becoming a “third-world cesspool.” Democratic policies are leading us down a dangerous path, especially the rolling out of a “red carpet” for immigrants. That’s what is vulgar in her opinion. And school kids learn far worse language than that long before they pass her sign, she added.
Letters appeared weekly on both sides of the issue. At one point, in what appears to be unintentional irony, the person displaying the “F*** Biden” sign tells her left-wing counterpart that “you really need to move on.”
While the war of words raged, Mark Golden was driving to work in New Berlin every day and passing a number of other signs of the F Biden variety.
“By the time I got to work, I was angry,” he said in a recent interview. A self-described “child of the 60s,” Golden doesn’t like to be angry. So he decided to do something about the decline in civility along the roadsides and in society at large.
Golden, CEO of Golden Artist Colors, an employee-owned company (and a story of wonder and kindness in itself) talked to an artist friend about designing a sign to encourage people to tone down the rage and keep in mind that we’re all human.
They came up with a yard sign with rainbow colors and #KEEPITKIND written on it. Golden took out an ad in The Sherburne News. Under the headline #KEEPITKIND, the ad said: “We have so many more things that bind us than divide us as a community. Please help us share a message of kindness by posting a ‘KEEPITKIND’ sign on your property. They are available at Golden Artist Colors….”
The ad goes on to request a $10 minimum donation that will be given to one of three local food banks, and concludes with: “Let’s plaster our community with kindness!”
Golden said his action was not specifically in reaction to the ongoing exchange on the letters page of The Sherburne News, but to the general decline in civility throughout our society. He did say, however, that although he disagreed with the tone of the F Biden signs, he admired the woman who wrote in for putting her name on the letters and not hiding behind the anonymity that makes so much of contemporary discourse so nasty.
In a 2019 interview with Syracuse.com, Golden said respect is a value he holds dear and it’s that loss of respect in contemporary society that he laments. The anonymity of the Internet has contributed heavily to that loss of civility. In the past, you “wouldn’t give someone the bird because you knew you’d see them later in the grocery store,” he said.
So far more than 100 signs have gone up along the roads in Chenango and neighboring counties and Golden expects to see more. Now, on his drive to work, he passes more signs saying #KEEPITKIND than the other kind. And he’s not angry anymore.
“Now, seeing the signs along the road, I arrive at work happy,” he said.
So if the state of debate in our country has you down, follow Route 80 into the hills of Chenango County to the Golden Artist Colors and pick up a sign. You’ll be helping to feed hungry people. And it’s a beautiful ride. And you might come back less angry.
Dennis Harrod is a co-founder of Sense of Decency.
#KEEPITKIND signs can be picked up at Golden Artist Colors, 188 Bell Road, New Berlin, NY 13411 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You might want to call ahead at (607) 847-6154 and make sure they have some on hand. Golden said they are going fast and he plans to order more. The requested $10 minimum donation will go to your choice of the following: New Berlin Food Pantry, St. Malachy’s Community Food Bank (Sherburne) or Hamilton Food Cupboard.