A group of friends and I meet once a month for lunch. We talk about everything under the sun, and since all of us have an interest in family history, the discussion often turns to new births and deaths and what our children and grandchildren are doing.

Sometimes we get into deep philosophical discussions, too — such as the disadvantages of self-flushing toilets.

I’ll leave that one to your imagination, but at our last get-together, the topic of recycling newspapers after working the puzzles arose when one of the ladies, Brenda, mentioned that she saved her newspapers for her daughter to use in training a newly adopted dog.

As a side note, she’s married to my cousin, and as she told me years ago after we started hanging out together in cemeteries and such in search of family history, I “overcame” the blood connection and we became friends. Those are her words, not mine, but we did get a big laugh when she uttered them.

Now, my cousin works the puzzles every day, and when her daughter and son-in-law put papers down for their dog, they saw the completed puzzles. But their son-in-law noticed something else. Beside each puzzle was a star.

Brenda said their daughter asked one day if she “graded” my cousin on his puzzle-working ability.

“Why, no,” Brenda told her. “Why do you ask?”

“There’s a star beside each one,” she was told. And then they both wondered if my cousin graded himself on his prowess.

Brenda soon asked him about it. “A star?” he asked. Then the mystery was solved: “I always scribble to make sure the pen is going to work,” my cousin said. The “star” was nothing more than a test to get the ink flowing.

This reminds me of so much of what’s going on in our world today. Instead of questioning and finding the facts in regard to something they see, as my cousin’s family did, people immediately jump to conclusions. They post their opinions on social media, provoke arguments and then the insults and name-calling begin to fly from right and left. The only thing accomplished is more divisiveness.

What is even more disturbing is that some don’t want to know the facts. As long as they supposedly prove their point, it doesn’t seem to matter that a photo or video or statements are taken out of context or deliberately altered. Just enough truth is given to make them appear legitimate, and then the myth is perpetuated as others see and share without digging in and finding out the “rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say. Or, in the case of my cousin and his puzzles, finding out what that “star” actually means.

What I’m trying to say is, sprinkle some kindness when you post or comment on social media or elsewhere. Find out the story behind the story. Be willing to listen without judging when an opinion differs from yours. Heed the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” Let’s do the hard thing — think.

I try to keep Proverbs 15:1 in mind: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

We all would do well to remember that.

Contact Linda Braden Albert with story ideas at LindasInkyfingers@comcast.net.

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