I never thought that the day would come when I would quote Al Gore willingly, but it has finally arrived. In a strange way, it has something to do with our environment, too. Oh, not the touchy-feely green environment, but rather our hometown environments.

The thing is, we are all responsible for our own happiness. You might want to read that again and file it away for future reference.

Folks are hard-wired to be dissatisfied. That is a very good thing, if you think about it. Without that dissatisfaction gene, we might all be lighting our homes with flaming torches instead of light bulbs.

Here is where the inconvenience comes in. You have to invent the light bulb and then figure out how you’re going to produce electricity for home use. By the way, you will also have to build light bulb factories, hire workers and then sell the bulbs in stores.

“Gee, I wish it was brighter in here. I wish I had a light bulb. I wish that somebody would give me one so that I can read at night like my neighbors do,” is absolutely silly.

Even sillier is sitting in the dark, not lifting a finger to do anything about acquiring a bulb and resenting your neighbor because his house has a warm glow. You complain about it, but you’re still sitting in the dark. There are two choices here: buy yourself a light bulb or accept going to bed with the chickens.

Hmmm, light bulbs and the duties of citizens. Is there any possible connection?

We tend to live in small towns and townships in our area. We have been losing population for decades, and there aren’t quite as many natives running around as there were 50 years ago. All of which means that we have to get along, pull together and get things done.

Working one by one, we can’t build a light bulb and we can’t fix our aging buildings, roads, streets, schools and what have you. But when we put our noggins together to find a solution, well, then the lights come on.

Don’t like the way that public money is being spent in your town? You have a voice, and you don’t get laryngitis after you leave the polling place.

Here’s another inconvenient truth. You have to read the newspaper. There is more in these pages than the latest drug bust, wedding announcement and funny column.

Local governments are obliged by law to announce budget proposals and public meetings back in the legal-ads portion of the classifieds. This is not a one-shot deal, folks. You have to make a habit of reading them if you want to be a good and involved citizen.

I remember covering a public-information meeting some years ago, back when a newer municipal authority was getting ready to begin a monumental water and sewer project. It was, is and always shall be expensive to provide public services anywhere.

The price was announced, there was sticker shock, it got ugly.

One irate citizen stood up and asked how come she didn’t know about this. When told that it had been covered in the L-V for many months, she said that she didn’t read the paper and how was she to know?

I was dumbfounded. It isn’t always possible to do a story on every meeting, but the information is always, always, available in the legal ads.

This isn’t the kind of story that runs on Pittsburgh news broadcasts, and you can’t expect our public servants to come knocking at our doors. As good citizens, we are responsible for our own happiness, and it often lies within the pages of the local newspaper.

Municipal budgets are drawn up near the end of the year, usually in December. A few weeks before being voted on and approved, proposed spending plans are announced in the legal ads and citizens are invited to view them at the local town hall. Or they can just turn off “Dancing with the Stars” and go to a borough or township meeting.

This is the time to make your voice heard, before things are done that you do not like. Complaining after the fact is … well, like wishing that somebody would give you a light bulb.

Of course, this requires some preparation on your part. You have to have a good idea of what you want, read the paper to find out the meeting schedule, go to the meeting and then have the courage to stand up and ask, civilly, for that light bulb.

You don’t have time to go to a meeting? Most are pretty well-organized and move along at a good pace. One hour is about average, two if there are many items up for discussion.

It takes about the same amount of time as going out to dinner. If you have time to order and eat a pizza, you have time to exercise your rights and responsibilities as a citizen.

This is why we fought the American Revolution in the first place and preserved those rights through other armed conflicts.

Some Americans bear arms in defense of our country. All of us can cast a ballot and participate in public meetings. It is the same thing done in a different way.

We can complain about sitting in the dark, or we can go out and get a light bulb.

[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]

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