Looking at the headlines these days can easily fill you with anger. There's the news about our elections increasingly being influenced by deep-pocketed secret donors; the news about the latest foreclosure fiasco; the news about poverty in our suburbs increasing at an alarming rate, while the top charities in the country have seen their donations drop by 11 percent, the worst decline in 20 years. And on our two wars, there is the news about massive fraud in the recent Afghan election, and the news that members of the Sunni Awakening, which helped bring some measure of stability to Iraq, are increasingly re-joining the insurgents.
And those are just from the last few days. So, yes, anger is an entirely appropriate response to the ongoing failure of our political and economic institutions. But it isn't the only response. There are plenty of people all across the country seeing these same failures and fiascos and responding with creativity, generosity, passion, and selflessness. But you don't see much about that response in the media.
To help remedy that, we're launching a new feature called HuffPost's Greatest Person of the Day.
As I've criss-crossed America on my book tour, I've been struck by how deep the sense is that our government has not kept faith with the American people. There is the feeling that the people who work hard, play by the rules, pay their taxes and fight our wars, are, well, getting screwed. This time, it's not just about watching the numbers (unemployment, bankruptcies, GDP) and waiting for them to improve. This time, people have lost faith in the process behind the numbers. There is the pervasive sense that the game is rigged and playing by the rules is no longer rewarded.
And yet there are tens of thousands of people who are refusing to let their lives, and the lives of their families and communities, be blighted by the consequences of inept -- or even corrupt -- leadership without doing something about it. They may not be able to fix the system, but they can make the small parts that impact their lives a bit better. And they are doing so in imaginative, ingenious, and very American ways.
That's why we're launching HuffPost's Greatest Person of the Day. We want to counter the idea that anger and resignation are the only options. Sure, there is a lot of macro-failure, but there are also thousands of micro-successes. (See our first two Greatest Person posts here and here.)
The people we feature will range from the superhuman types who have been forming nonprofits since they were in first grade to ordinary Americans who, often after finding themselves in challenging circumstances, had a spark of an idea and ended up making their lives, or the lives of those around them, better. In other words, the "greatness" of our Greatest Persons will be accessible and replicable. How did they take their first steps on the road to being a HuffPost Greatest Person of the Day? How do they manage to do good while still finding time for family, work and friends? These are the sorts of questions we'll be asking.
In our Third World America section, we've already featured dozens of the kinds of people we'll be putting the spotlight on in HuffPost's Greatest Person of the Day. For example, there's Eric Charles Jirgens, a successful interior designer for 25 years. When the recession hit, his big-budget projects ebbed. He was still making a living but wasn't as busy. So he decided to use his extra time redesigning a local women's shelter in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"I just needed to make enough money to pay my bills, and the rest I could spend making other people's lives a bit better," he says. "It's a win-win situation."
It certainly was for the women's shelter. "I wanted to offer some dignity to these women by creating an actual living space, one with furniture that is comfortable, functional and well-suited to their needs," says Jirgens. "These aren't million-dollar makeovers, but a matter of putting in creature comforts to create a warmer home environment."
He now hopes to partner up with some big retail home stores and apply his skills to more women's shelters.
Then there's Andrea McCarren, a TV journalist with 20 years in the business, a Nieman Fellowship and seven Emmy Awards to her credit. In the spring of 2009 she was laid off from a TV station in Washington, D.C. The spark for what followed was provided by her 13-year-old son Blake. "Mom, just because you're not working for [channel] 7 doesn't mean you're not a reporter anymore," he told her.
She soon came up with the idea for something she called "Project Bounceback," in which she packed her family in a RV and set out across the country to document how the recession was affecting people, and the creative ways in which some were using it to reinvent themselves.
A few months into the project, McCarren got another TV job, but the experience had a lasting impact. "Everywhere we went, people offered their homes, they fed us, they smiled at us," she says. "They were so proud to give us books on local history."
Along the way, she used her journalist's skills to shine a light on the continuing effects of the recession. "I'm troubled when I hear things like, 'the recession is over,'" she says. "I know it's not for a lot of the people we met."
We want this feature to be fueled by you. So let us know: Who are the people in your community who have stepped up, refused to give in, decided to make their small corner of the country a little bit better? Whether it's yourself or someone you know, click the "Participate" button below and tell us your stories.
We'll be running one HuffPost's Greatest Person of the Day story every day. And if you want to wake up to a little inspiration before moving on to scandal, outrage, and failure, you can sign up to receive a daily email featuring our Greatest Person of the Day by clicking here.
So submit your nominations for HuffPost's Greatest Person of the Day now. There's plenty of meanness, pettiness, selfishness, and loathsomeness out there; let's focus some attention on the greatness.
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