The warm Minnesota evening was perfect, but I couldn’t enjoy it much. The meeting – another tedious, complex hashing of details about an electric cooperative – was over, and I had to get back to the office and file a story.

Excuse me, she said.

Trapped there in the parking lot, I couldn’t exactly run or hide.

Excuse me, she said, aren’t you with the paper?

Here it comes. Let me guess: The paperboy always throws the paper on the roof, or why did we endorse Dewey in ’48, or we missed it when your goldfish won a ribbon at the county fair.

You can’t actually say those things, so I stuck out my hand and said, “Yes, ma’am. Jeff Fox, Mesabi Daily News. How are you?”

Well, she said, I just wanted ...

Here it comes. Grit teeth and smile.

I just wanted, she said ...

... to thank you.

What?

I wanted to thank you. I’m a member of this co-op, this whole controversy has been a mess, and I don’t know what to do, and – jerking a thumb toward the office – I’m sure not getting good answers from those guys. The paper is the only place I’ve gotten a straight story, so thank you.

Uh, sure, I muttered. And she was gone. I drove to the newspaper to write.

It’s been a few years since that little scene, which I have always taken as a validation for deciding to go to journalism school and believing in fighting the good fight. But I now think there are deeper meanings. There’s more to it than members of a co-op wading through conflicting information and deciding whether to sell to the big, bad utility down the road.

Belief, faith, hope, confidence – call it what you will. It’s important not just on Sunday mornings but in most areas of life. Just look at the stock market and the economy. Confidence is good, lack of confidence is corrosive and contagious.

It’s hard to relate this story without bragging, and I’ve already done enough of that, but let’s go ahead and press the point one step further. It wasn’t just that the newspaper served a reader well with news articles, editorials and letters to the editor about this pressing subject. The co-op thing was a huge controversy, we cut through the fog, and all of that was exhausting but deeply rewarding.

The bigger point that we helped redeem a promise, one found in civics textbooks and carried around in our heads and hearts. The promise is that in America, where we are free to order our own affairs as we see fit, we will educate ourselves about things and make it our business to be the informed electorate the nation’s founders had faith in. Yes, it’s important that the press poke and dig, and then report to us, but that’s only part of it.

A kind thank-you – a moment of thoughtfulness – can do wonders for one’s faith in what we can do when we remember to rely on one another.