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Letters to the Editor: A Mixed Bag

with John M. Hotchner

"Gratitude is a small virtue, but ingratitude is an exceedingly large vice." So said that famous philosopher Anonymous. It is no less true in philately than in any other area of human endeavor.

Chances are that with ten minutes' thought, any one of you who are reading these words could come up with ten people or institutions who have helped you along the way to becoming the collector you are today, and ten philatelic moments you have enjoyed in the last five years.

Why then, are the letters to the editor page of most philatelic journals chock full of discontent and distress? Surely it is real. But I am hopeful that it exists in smaller proportion than the printed letters would indicate.

This is not a call to curtail discontent, but rather to ask collectors to give equal or more weight to the positives of the hobby.

Why should anyone care? Why not let people vent their spleen in peace? My concern is the image of the hobby that the overly negative Letters pages present. How do we look as a hobby to those who may be thinking about philately as a possible pastime?

I think we in philately are better off than many other areas. Still it seems that it is those who are discontented who are most moved to write. And the result is a less attractive "product" than I believe actually exists. People who are considering the hobby are generally looking for a refuge from the stresses of everyday life, not another battleground. Most will accept a bit of negativity; it mirrors life. Indeed it would be as artificial to have it missing as to have the positives ignored.

I don't believe the fault lies with the publications printing the letters. A media mogul once told me that from his perspective, "Good news is no news." But I believe the philatelic press publishes what it receives, and would be delighted to receive a more representative mix. No, I lay the cause of this problem at the feet of "The Reader," in which class I include myself.

How many of us take pen in hand, or sit down before the keyboard, and say "Thank You" or pass out a word of praise when something has been accomplished to our satisfaction? How many of us write about our own successes and give credit to those whose shoulders we stood upon to enable the achievement?

Perhaps it is that we Americans are a people on the make. There is a constant expectation, fostered by the idiot box and the ad biz, that there is "perfection" and that there is a simple answer to every problem. If you are possessed of enough power, enough influence, enough money, you can have it your way.

This means you can find the perfect mate, develop the perfect body, own the perfect home, enjoy perfect happiness. But reality — a state not glorified by the visual, voice or print media — is quite different. We must work and strive for the good in our lives, and the journey is not always pleasant.

Most of us understand this on an intellectual level. Still, the image of desired perfection is so pervasive that we clamor after it, and we fall perpetually short. And the result is that we are perpetually dissatisfied.

If we aren't able to make the pop image work for ourselves, than we surely know who and what to blame: Everything around us that isn't perfect. Of course, nearly everything is fair game since even perfection when it occurs is never permanent.

Now let's return to the first paragraph of this column. It provides a hint as to how we might approach our lives and our philately a bit differently.

We need to take our foot off our mental accelerators, and spend some time each day being grateful for what we have attained and the fun we've had getting there. And we need to talk about and acknowledge those good things.

Certainly one way to do that is to share our positives as avidly as we share our dissatisfactions in written form. I'm convinced that our hobby will be a more attractive refuge for those looking for a hobby if we could do that.

Should you wish to comment on this editorial, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting "VSC" in the subject line, at jmhstamp@verizon.net

For what in philately are you grateful? What's good about stamp collecting? Join us in the message board and tell us about it.

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