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Opinion

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Schools have been releasing their reopening plans — ranging from students attending full time to hybrid models — and many parents and teachers are buzzing with concerns.

We’re disappointed that some of our local districts did not reveal their reopening plans until the state deadline of July 31. We understand the massive undertaking it was to craft these plans and the number of people on committees involved to see it through, but many districts’ reopening data is long and convoluted. More effort can be made to present this reopening data in a digestible way.

It’s no surprise that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has not yet created a blanket school reopening plan across the state. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for our school districts during a pandemic. Each one varies in size and number of students, teachers and space available. All this, of course, with an ax hanging over schools heads with state aid potentially being cut later this year.

The same is true for within a school district. Each student’s family is different. There are those who legitimately fear catching the coronavirus to the degree that it has kept them in lockdown even after some restrictions have been lifted. And while some have the luxury of having at least one parent being able to stay home if the local district offers a hybrid model, other families will be unable to provide the supervision their child needs.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that schools across the country reopen as long as they put safety first. Cuomo, after reviewing the districts’ reopening plans, will be making a final decision later this week.  The governor has said that as long as infection rate averages over a two-week period stay below 5 percent, schools will be able to reopen to some capacity. Suffolk County currently hovers at around 1 percent. There is no guarantee that figure won’t increase in the future, especially considering the current case with states like California, which was heading in the same promising direction as New York until cases spiked to a current total of more than 525,000.

Here is the thing we have to understand, none of us will be happy. Nobody will get everything they want from current plans. In a normal year, every kid would be learning in school, desks spaced only inches from each other and halls crowded with kids.

A parent who relies on schools to watch their children while a parent or guardian is at work may not be able to afford a different kind of day care. Families that rely on school reduced cost or free lunches won’t have that option without a kid in school. Hybrid models only help with a portion of those issues, but it’s better than nothing.

Some parents ask why the district can’t provide learning options for students who stay home 24/7 while the rest go into their full-time or hybrid schedules. Districts are already hurting financially due to the pandemic. Many are taking from their fund balances just to afford the additional staff and resources needed to have some students in the classroom. Asking them to put further resources into the extra time it takes to help students at home may not be feasible for so many districts.

We are now in a situation where each family needs to look at their school’s plan and then adjust it to their reality. Districts should do all they can to keep residents in the loop on a consistent basis. Parents, for their part, must acknowledge no plan will be perfect. It will take both parties and compromise to get the best outcome for students while keeping the virus under control.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We will undoubtedly run into times in the next few weeks and months when our kids can’t stay in school. Yes, sure, I understand how and why people want their children in school. Most of the time, they can and will learn more in a conventional classroom setting than they will sitting in their beds in a collared shirt with pajama bottoms, texting friends all over the country with their phones while they pretend to be taking notes.

I also understand the need for schools to provide a structured schedule for each day, offering parents a chance to finish assignments for their jobs, pay bills without a well-intentioned child turning the checks into a coloring pad, or have a few moments when they don’t need to clean up the mess on another floor.

And yet, we aren’t that much further along than we were in March, when schools closed for the first time, in protecting the health of teachers, students, and everyone else who enters or lives with someone in an academic setting.

Sure, the hospitals may have better treatments than they did when they didn’t know about the likely progression of the disease, but there is no cure and most of us don’t have any immunity.

So, given that we’re not likely to do much traveling and our kids are likely to spend some time at home, we can and should develop Plans B, C and D.

Plan B could be a fallback into the kinds of learning our children did in March, when school administrators and teachers tried to educate our children with modified, distance-based lesson plans. Certainly, schools have spent considerable time preparing for either a blended version of in-class and remote learning or an all-remote experience.

Those lessons and the material covered will hopefully be thorough enough to match what they would have learned in the customary in-person setting.

Plan C, however, may involve some supplemental educating and, perhaps, education-driven day care, depending on the age of our children. Where can we find that? In every community, children of all ages may be home. For older teenagers, this may be an opportunity to provide guidance to younger counterparts whom they might drive by on their way to school, soccer practice or a group gathering.

Parents of younger children may want to connect with parents of high school children, either directly or through their schools. After all, these high school students are much closer to learning modern math than parents who may be decades from the same material that was taught in a different way in an earlier era.

Through a voluntary and distance-based teens-to-tots tutoring, younger students can find mentors, tutors and friends in teenagers who can, perhaps earlier than they anticipated, give back to the communities that supported them.

With more time on their hands because so many extracurriculars might be canceled, these teenagers can become an important resource in an educational system, supplementing what the younger students learn in class.

A neighbor recently told me about a family exchange he and his brother managed. His 20-something son became frustrated living and working at home, while his brother’s 20-something daughter shared the same sentiment. He sent his son to live with his brother, while he hosted his niece. The change of scenery has proven healthy for everyone, giving them all a chance to exhale amid the uncertainty.

Disruptions over the next several months to a year seem inevitable. If we come up with creative ways to plan for them, we might contribute to our communities and enjoy the time while we wait for the viral all-clear signal.

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Take the time for a second to think about all the things you know you can’t talk about in a public space.

Think about it hard. However much you like to talk to strangers, imagine what should happen if one dares to speak about the upcoming election. Envisage the shouting matches over recent protests. Have you feared what should happen if you kindly ask the person waiting in line at checkout to please put on a mask?

As reporters, we have seen just how reserved people can be on the hot-button topics of the day. Sending a reporter out to ask people their opinions on an issue such as the possibility of war with Iran back in January — remember when that was the big story of the day? —results in a paltry mix of opinions. Out of more than a dozen people, you may get one willing to speak their thoughts and offer their names on the record.

Yes, you’ll get more answers to the tame question of “what are you most excited to do this summer?” but so few people want their opinion shared. If you ask, the majority will say they do not want their thoughts laid bare for all to see on the internet and on social media.

Though we rarely share them, it seems the antipathy and staunchness of those same opinions is only hardening as time goes.

Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center in 2017 show the mean identity for being either strictly Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, has only increased over the past two decades. The partisan gap on issues such as immigration started with a percentage gap of little more than 10 percent has become 40. Worries about climate change have only become starker on the political line.

The thing is, most people know and would acknowledge said political polarization. Students at the top of their class at recent social distancing graduations like one in Miller Place spoke about that same political gulf. Indeed, everybody seems to confirm it, but at the same time, nobody seems to work to bridge those same divides.

People have made apolitical things political. Climate change is not a political issue. The debate has long centered on whether climate change is really happening. It is happening, it is being caused by humanity, and the debate should not center on the “is it” but more on the “what we need to do about it.” We on Long Island have to be acutely aware of it, because rising sea levels will impact us immensely.

This pandemic has also made such a divide even starker. Asking to wear masks, in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19, has been transformed into an assault on personal freedoms.

This thought isn’t helped with the constant barrage of false info and conspiracy theories spread through social media, especially about the virus. Last week’s article about local social media pages cited a Pew Research Center report that a frightening number of individuals believe unproven conspiracy theories about the ongoing pandemic.

Indeed, with national politics being what they are, it’s often better to think about local issues. We at TBR News Media do our best to report on issues that impact us right here at home, issues of beach erosion, flooding, the state of our small businesses. Instead of basing the conversation on grander topics of political infighting, focus on what works or doesn’t work. These conversations can (though not always) be much calmer and sincere than anything concerning who’s behind will occupy the White House throne come Nov. 3.

Leave animosity at the door, and concern yourself with you, your neighbors and your community. That is where the best of us can be found.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Like it or not, ready or not, we will be starting August at the end of this week. That means many students and faculty will be returning to college, for those schools that are welcoming students back to campus and for however long those young learners will be allowed to remain there.

So, what should be on the shopping list?

Well, for starters, the kids will need masks and abundant quantities of hand sanitizer. Sure, colleges are promising to have some of each scattered around the facilities students will have to take turns using, but, to the extent we can find and afford it, we should include these health care items on our packing list.

They’ll probably need their own thermometers, just so they can respond, at a moment’s notice, to the question of how they are feeling and whether they’ve had any fever. In fact, they should carry the thermometer to every class.

Of course, this often isn’t sufficient in the age of COVID-19, in large part because so many people, particularly those who are our children’s age, don’t have a fever even if they are carriers and potential super-spreaders of the virus.

They’ll also need plenty of cleaning supplies because they may prefer to clean their rooms and common spaces like bathrooms themselves or because schools may be reluctant to send other people into their suite or hallway bathrooms.

We might want to add a laminated card that includes critical phone numbers and addresses. If they are far enough from home, they might need a safe place to stay in case they have to vacate campus immediately, like an antiseptic barn or a never-used cabin in the woods. They also might need to know the name and phone number of a local doctor or a doctor from home who can talk them through any medical challenges through telemedicine. Waiting at university health services, urgent care facilities, or hospitals may create undo stress and raise exposure to the virus.

Now, how many weeks or months of clothing to pack has become a matter of opinion. Some people, like my daughter, are listening to their school suggestion and are planning to pack for a total of three weeks. In that case, one or even one-and-a half suitcases may be sufficient.

Okay, what else? Well, they’ll need electronics and chargers, so they can do most of their work from their dorm room or a pre-reserved room in a library or any other space students can reserve that is cleaned in between study sessions.

Given that the gym, where they might go to run or lift weights, is likely on restricted hours or is only available for school athletes, they might also want to bring a few light weights, just to get some exercise in the room.

Even though they may only be there for three weeks, they’ll need plenty of air freshener and bug spray. If these students and their roommates spend most if not all of their time in their rooms, they may eat most, if not all, of their meals in this small space. Unless they take regular, exercise-inducing trips to remove their trash, the leftovers will likely start to smell within a few days, particularly in hotter rooms that don’t have air conditioners.

These students will also need cameras and plenty of memory in their electronic devices. If they only get three weeks or less of time on campus, they’re probably going to want to document as much as possible of their campus life, before they do all of their learning remotely.

Oh, and they might need a few notebooks, pencils and pens. Then again, if they do everything online, those antiquated items might be unnecessary in a year of unknowns.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

What’s it like to be a grandparent?

Most of us would say it’s totally wonderful. But it’s not automatic. It’s a club we can’t join on our own. Only through our children’s actions can we be admitted, and for some people, their children are reticent to provide admission. Getting married in one’s 20s and shortly thereafter starting to have children is not the automatic course of events it once was in the last and previous centuries. For others with no children of their own, the surrogate route is available, and that can be deeply satisfying.

I can share with you some of the personal satisfactions. I am grandmother to four, who are in their teens and early 20s. Watching them grow and flower has been as much a miracle to me as their births, and they have expanded my horizons even as they have found their own paths. From my oldest grandson, I have learned a bit about making films since he has become a filmmaker. As you may know, we have even teamed up and collaborated on his movie, “One Life to Give,” about Benjamin Tallmadge, Nathan Hale and the Culper Spy ring.

From my second grandson’s work, I am thrilled to hear how music is made and then distributed to the public. This is his chosen career and our family is enjoying every note. My granddaughter is in college and expresses an interest in psychology, a field in which I have, to my regret, never taken any courses and am eager to learn more about. She is also a marvel to me because she is the first daughter among a team of sons to come along in a couple of generations. And my youngest grandson, still in high school, and I share a passion for baseball. Our only difference: he plays, I watch. And cheer.

Perhaps a less generally articulated satisfaction of being a grandparent is watching our children become parents. They have moved into those roles with the same eagerness and trepidation that their father and I felt. They now know what it is like to put aside their lives for another. As they have done so, they have understood and, I believe, come to appreciate their father and me, which is a nice aside.

Grandparents get to love their grandchildren without any baggage. We can enjoy their development without as much ego and effort as the first time around. We can play with them when they are little, then give them back to their parents when they need some attention. The remarkable thing about that relationship is how much they seem to love us, right from their first breaths on earth.

Grandparents also are the repositories of the culture, origins and values of the family. They offer a link between past and present, and often it is they who bring together families and community with their Sunday dinners and holiday gatherings.

Where are the grandparents now and how are they doing?

Grandparents have been perhaps the most isolated by COVID-19. In the age group deemed most likely to die from the disease, they have been the most careful about staying at home. As a result, grandparents have become almost invisible over the past four months. The only respite for some has been FaceTime or Zoom. If they have the technology, at least they can connect with family and friends digitally.

To honor grandparents and make them more visible during the pandemic, we are producing a special publication in time for Grandparents Day, a national holiday started by Marian McQuade of West Virginia and made official by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. We are inviting residents to send in pictures of their grandparents, and we will print them in the issue of Sept. 10. September was considered appropriate for such a celebration by the Carter administration since grandparents are in the autumn of their lives. And we consider it appropriate to salute them now for their difficult sheltering-in-place.

Photo by Kyle Barr

America is a country that lives in the shallow ditch between fiction and reality. We live in a society that demands civility of all people, from those protesting injustice — even when that protest boils over into violence — to those screaming “white power” from the top of their lungs.

It was something well noted by Martin Luther King Jr., who famously said in one of his letters from Birmingham jail that he found the white moderate was “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom,” and that “the white moderate is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

In that small gutter we dug ourselves and have lain in, we constantly refuse to acknowledge extremism even when it’s present in our own backyards, even amongst the people we greatly respect and admire for the work they have done to benefit local residents.

This past weekend, folks held a car show in Port Jefferson benefiting one of the local VFW posts, one whose funds, like many, were hit hard due to the pandemic. It was also held to promote services supporting veterans post traumatic stress disorder.

This is as bipartisan as one can get. Most were maintaining some measure of social distancing. Most were wearing face coverings.

Though on one car, bedecked with banners supporting President Donald Trump (R) as well as some emblazoned with the Marines’ emblem, was a sign that read “Antifa Hunting Permit: Open Season All 58 Gender Identities.”

It’s not a new sign, indeed it’s available freely on the internet. It’s such a small example, but it represents an underbelly of violent intent that permeates our suburban community.

“Antifa,” as it’s known, is short for “anti-fascists.” They are an ill-defined, loosely organized set of groups that usually confront right-wing or conservative groups in public, often with violence. The president has called for them to be labeled a terrorist group. Though their actions have sometimes warranted condemnation, organizations like the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism say the number of anti-fascists can hardly compare to the number of similarly or even more extremely violent racist or white nationalist groups.

Beyond that is this mention of “All 58 Gender Identities.” For one, there are not 58 gender identities, there is no set number of defined identities among groups that use an identity beyond male or female.

Worse, it is an active call for violence against a group, namely people who are transgender, who suffer an extreme amount of violence for their population size. It’s an attempt to conflate a fractured collective spread across the United States with a vulnerable group of people. According to the Human Rights Campaign, advocates tracked at least 27 deaths of transgender or otherwise non-gender conforming people in the U.S. just in 2019. They were targeted and murdered for no other reason than that they were transgendered. Among those deaths, the majority were of black transgender women.

It’s such a small thing, just a single sign on a car in the center of more than a dozen. Though one only has to step foot on social media to witness the animosity shown toward people protesting on Long Island, despite how in over 100 protests, with more occurring every day of the week, only a handful were arrested, mostly for nonviolent offenses.

One can denounce the violence on the side of Antifa and denounce the violence of white nationalist groups and the wanton harm caused to vulnerable people. One can be both for police and for police reform. One can love one’s country and still think change is needed.

There’s no reason to have voices and mentalities strangled by the “either/or” divide that seems mandated in these times.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Everyone has a social cup that they need to fill. Some have cups the size of shot glasses or even thimbles and can satisfy their need for social interactions with a few exchanges of pleasantries on a walk or by picking up the phone and dialing friends in town or across the country.

Each day, these people meet their own social needs with relative ease and without spending much time looking family, friends, neighbors and even strangers in the eye and telling their tales.

Others, however, need to fill large mugs that may be the size of enormous water bottles. They need to hear and tell jokes, to exchange thoughts and ideas, to laugh with others about their jobs, their kids, or the successes and failures of their cooking efforts, their favorite teams or the unbelievable acts of kindness or insensitivity they have witnessed.

Recently, my wife and I listened, outside and while socially distanced, to a friend of ours who lives with a larger social cup describe the abject misery he feels from working at home. The conditions don’t bother him and his children, who are grown up and living their lives and aren’t wandering into the picture when he gets on a zoom call.

For him, the challenge resides in the lack of contact with other people. When my wife and I suggested he call college friends and reach out to other people, he said he’d tried, but part of the problem is that they don’t have much to discuss.

Part of the problem is the Groundhog Day nature of his and everyone else’s life. Sitting at home and working, and taking a few breaks a day to walk his dogs, he hasn’t lived the way he’d like so he can gather the kinds of stories that refill that cup.

Later in that same week, my wife and I were flicking through the channels and saw CNN deriding President Donald Trump (R), while Fox was supporting the president and tearing into the presumptive Democratic challenger for the presidency, Joe Biden.

We have long lived in the world of outrage culture, where what passes for news and analysis has become an opportunity for experts to rip an issue, a person, an idea, a movement or anything apart that they can.

I picture the TV producers looking at their line up of articulate but angry people in suits each morning, trying to pick the best one to stir the pot, rile up the viewers and warn the world about the dangers that await them.

We don’t have many modern day versions of Mr. Rogers because calm, cool and collected doesn’t play as well as outraged and angry.

But, here’s the thing: people at home who haven’t filled their social cups may direct their discomfort and angry energy in destructive ways.

I get it: angry people with strong opinions likely bring in strong ratings for news organizations that have become instruments of advocacy. After all, few people sold newspapers or watched TV shows without a hint of drama or conflict.

In our lives, however, we have enough of conflict and drama, thank you very much.

With people struggling to deal with so much uncertainty and isolation and holding empty and dried out cups that reflect how much they miss familiar contact and connection, a soothing and calm presence that supports solutions rather than tearing down other people’s ideas, is far preferable to shows that foment anger.

With a contentious election on the horizon in which some portion of the population will be utterly crestfallen after the electoral votes are counted, we need news organizations to offer the kind of hope and solutions that doesn’t make people feel as if they’re holding an empty cup.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Most of us like to try to peer into the future and see what may lie ahead. That’s one attraction of a world’s fair and of futurist books. One such popular book of half a century ago was “Future Shock,” by Alvin Toffler, which dealt with how people can adapt to changes and even embrace them. During this coronavirus pandemic, the first such in 100 years, consensus seems to be that life will be changed after the disease ends, that this is a defining moment in
our history.

But how will things change?

A columnist for The New York Times, David Leonhardt, tried to provide a few answers this past Sunday in his article entitled. “It’s 2022. What does life look like?” Here is some of what he has to say that you and I can probably agree with, understanding that the timing of a vaccine can, in turn, alter the most clairvoyant of predictions.

Many traditional department stores will disappear. Already weakened by specialty stores like Home Depot or discount stores like Costco, the one-stop of Sears and J.C. Penny have been bypassed by shoppers, who have also embraced the convenience of the internet. Walmart and Amazon are among the world’s richest public companies today. Retailers in general have been stricken by the consumer move to online shopping. As investment guru Warren Buffett has been often quoted, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Retail stores that have just managed to hang on will now experience a death blow. This could be devastating for shopping malls that depend on retailers’ rent. Of course, after a vaccine frees people to go shopping as something more like recreation, those retailers who provide an “experience” along with their goods for sale will have a better chance of surviving and even thriving. The demise of small retailers will have a huge impact on villages and unemployment, I believe. Many residents across the country work in their local stores.

Another change will be in higher education, according to Leonhardt. Dozens of colleges, private and public, despite being heavily subsidized by government, are in trouble. There are a couple of reasons. While college enrollment has pretty consistently been growing in the United States since the Civil War, in the last decade undergraduate numbers have fallen, the result of fewer births and, I believe, of a reconsideration of the value of pricey college education. Colleges have lost the revenue from summer school, from food service and parking fees. Of greatest concern is the imminent reduction of state aid due to stricken state budgets. The big question now is whether colleges will be able to bring back students for fall classes. If they cannot return, revenue is likely to drop sharply. Remote learning was not as successful or satisfying as was hoped. This could have severe implications for the educational level of the next generation of Americans.

The positive side of the remote coin can be found among white collar workers, many of whom will prefer to work at least part of the week from home in the future. There will be less business commuting, less travel with attendant fatigue, less cost. But that will negatively affect commercial real estate, the airlines and hotels.

The third at-risk industry, in Leonhardt’s view is local newspapers. “Between 2008 and 2019, American newspapers eliminated about half of all newsroom jobs. The virus has led to more job cuts — and could end up forcing dozens more papers to fold … If that happens, their cities will be left without perhaps the only major source of information about local politics, business, education and the like.” To what end? “Corruption and political polarization tend to rise while voter turnout tends to fall,” says Leonhardt. In short, the community begins to shrivel.

The solution, as we see the future, is to embrace change and make it work for us. That is why we here at the local newspapers are also the popular news website, tbrnewsmedia.com with almost 150,000 unique viewers a month. We are the sponsors of several social platforms and the innovators of such valued print products as the 2020 graduation supplement and the TBR Artists Coloring Book released in the last month alone. With, and only with your support, we at Times Beacon Record News Media are here to stay.

Photo by David Ackerman

When The New York Times recently published an editorial titled “Don’t Cancel That Newspaper Subscription,” it caught our attention. Not just because of the subject matter — anything about the general decline of local newspapers is, of course, something we’re very concerned about — but because of the struggles each reporter and editor faces while trying to do their jobs.

The beginning of the editorial tells the story of John Seigenthaler, initially a young reporter with The Tennessean who saved the life of a man he was interviewing back in the 1950s. Seigenthaler went on to become editor and then publisher for the local paper and was at the forefront of civil rights coverage in the heart of the segregated South. However, the piece is not a love letter to the local papers of the 20th century; it’s a cry for help for the publications of today.

The editorial touches on how newspapers and their newsrooms have become smaller over time, even before the coronavirus pandemic diminished the amount of advertising, the main source of revenue papers rely on. Over the years, local publications have been suffering as more and more readers take to the internet to get their daily or weekly dose of news. It also doesn’t help that the false moniker of “fake news” is thrown around by too many without a care for the consequences such an impetuous statement can create.

According to the editorial, newsrooms across the country lost half their journalists between 2008-19. Citing a recent Business Insider article, the writer Margaret Renkl, said “a staggering” 7,800 journalists lost their jobs in 2019.

The writer goes on to tell the story of how The Tennessean recently ran an ad that many found appalling and racist, but she urged people not to cancel their subscriptions. She not only cited how the publisher quickly tried to rectify the situation by pulling it from future editions and firing the sales manager that approved it, but she pointed out many other things, too. Despite the extreme lack of judgment in placing the ad, even with a shortage of journalists due to cutbacks over the years, the paper still covers and publishes a variety of topics that show it is still doing everything in its power to maintain a balanced and reputable publication.

We get this. There have been times when some may not have been pleased with an article, letter or editorial in our newspapers. That is perfectly fine, and we invite reasoned criticism from all in our letters to the editor. But as Renkl wrote in her editorial, “As the ‘first rough draft of history’ journalism will always be prone to mistakes.” We, perhaps beyond any other industry, not only invite justified review of our papers, but we also actively try to improve, working many, many hours to try to get the story of local happenings. We cannot be everywhere and cover everything, but we do our best.

Canceling your subscription to a newspaper only hastens the death of journalism. We’ve written it before on this page, and we’ll put it out there again: If newspapers and journalists didn’t exist, who would tell you what leaders are up to? Who would be there to challenge their responses when something doesn’t sound quite right? And this is even more important with our local leaders, especially as more news networks focus on the national side of our society.

Without local papers, where would readers go to find out what fun activities are going on right in their own town? Who would celebrate the academic and athletic achievements of our local students?

Unfortunately, the days of local newsrooms brimming over with editors and reporters, who could run out and cover every incident in town, may be over, but pulling out a newspaper from the mailbox or picking one up on the newsstand doesn’t need to end.

Let’s work together to keep local journalism alive. With each subscription, just like with each ad, we are empowered to continue and enabled to cover more of our communities’ activities for the benefit of all.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Look, we’re out of practice. It’s totally normal. We’ve spent so much time talking to kids who don’t listen, to pets who need a break from us and to computers that seem determined to sabotage our efforts to work from home that we may have lost a step or two in our social graces.

Slowly, like hermit crabs emerging from their shells, we are stepping out into the phased world, in which we can do this, but can’t do that and where we are seeing more three-dimensional people and not those two-dimensional figures who flash across all manner of electronic devices.

As a quick refresher, I’d like to offer a reminder of the things that should give us pause if we’re about to share them with others who may be a bit sensitive.

The following should serve as verbal red flags:

Not that I’m looking, but … if whatever comes next is something you shouldn’t be staring at, such as anatomical areas, private letters or emails, you shouldn’t finish the sentence.

Don’t take this the wrong way … well, if a part of you recognizes that what you’re about to say could be problematic or painful for the listener, consider saying it in a different way or not saying it at all.

Obviously … this can go in one of two directions. A truly obvious statement doesn’t need sharing. A statement you think is obvious but isn’t so clear to the listener becomes a way to offend that person, who may have a reflexive defensive response.

I’m no expert, but … we all often talk about subjects in which we have no expertise. We might be anywhere from slightly informed to ill informed. We should be able to share what we think we might know, but we may not want to challenge someone who designs buildings on the best way to put together a LEGO house.

This is such a minor point that I hesitate to bring it up … maybe instead of hesitating, you should just not. Correcting the day of the week on a story about an event that occurred over 10 years ago seems unnecessary and distracting.

I don’t want to take the wind out of your sails … you’re probably about to do what you say you’re not doing, so own it and say you disagree completely or let me continue to sail off into my happy sunset.

What do I know, but … This expression suggests that you are about to do one of two things. You’re likely preparing to deliver serious criticism, but want to couch it by suggesting that it might not be based on anything other than a disdain for you, your wardrobe choices, your career path, or anything in between. Alternatively, you’re about to say something that seems supportive — “what do I know, but your idea for submersible homes seems compelling to me”  — but that really suggests that you’re hiding behind false humility. If someone follows your advice, the “what do I know” expression is your way of dodging any responsibility for their mistakes.

I don’t mean to offend you, but … this is one of my favorites. It suggests that you know you are about to be offensive and that you don’t mean it, but you just can’t help it. You’re about to share something that may dress up as helpful, like a Trojan horse, perhaps, but that will likely cause damage.

Holding our tongues can be incredibly difficult, especially when we’d like to tell the person in front of us how we want to make a minor, but likely obvious point that we hope doesn’t take the wind out of their sails or offend them. We also don’t know what we’re talking about because we’re not experts. Still, it was sort of good to see them.