We’d like to tell ourselves that we have so much because we’re better, we’re right, we’re more civilized, morally superior, that we’ve achieved this destiny with our hard work and “go get ‘em” American gumption. Bullshit. That’s ridiculous.
For those of you who have travelled outside of U.S. borders – and I mean really travelled, not been to the gross Disney-esque façade of a Cabo or all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, you know what I mean. Daily life is a struggle for most people in the world, the rule – not the exception. Things that aren’t even on our radar enough to take for granted, like clean water and a roof over our heads and enough food to eat, are a daily scramble. I’ve seen whole villages picking through the dumps to survive, families lined up waiting out back of a restaurant for the trash to come out so they can dive in the dumpster and fight for their scraps of dinner. The images of children working the streets are burned into my conscience, barefoot 3 year olds dodging traffic to beg a few coins, huffing glue or gasoline to keep the hunger away. Or for the girls, worse.
I don’t believe in fate – there’s no rational explanation why “God” put them there and me here. But because of our lofty station I do believe that we’ve been given the gift of social responsibility. I call it a gift and not a duty because it’s preferable to the alternative.
Everyone rallies for their own self interests – everyone, it’s just human nature. Business owners and the wealthy want lower taxes, those who are on the lower end want a sturdier ladder to climb out of classism and a better social safety net. Dare I say that those in lily-white affluent suburbs aren’t too concerned with the 500 gun deaths in the streets of Chicago every year until a tragedy befalls them? I’m not laying blame, let me be clear about that, it’s just how it works – everyone rallies for their own self-interests, including me. It's no grand coincidence that teachers lobby for education, baseball players care about the strength of their union above the sanctity of the game, and DMV employees...well, bad example - forget about them. When you zoom out far enough what you're left with is a bunch of competing self interests, all yelling over each other to be heard.
But for those of us in the U.S.A., that dice-roll of chance blessed us with the opportunity to be better than that, not because of what we have our hand out to take but because of what we can give. We can care for others who may fall outside our sphere of personal self-interests without threatening our survival. THAT is American Exceptionalism. And yet we fail, more often than not, because we’re so concerned with keeping score, blinded by comfort and consumerism and a hyper-angry mentality of fear that’s come to infect our culture. Trust me when I tell you that if you really want to look at the world and all of the possibilities for your existence, it will be quite an eye opener. I’m not talking about being a liberal or a conservative - throw your politics in the trash as far as I’m concerned, for either one in excess imbalances that notion of greater good. Loyalty to a political party often is nothing more than allegiance to whichever side represents the biggest bundle of your own self interests. No, I’m just talking about being a good human being.
Please do me a favor - the next time you’re about to vote, to speak, or to act on an issue, or even before you judge your fellow man without walking a mile in his shoes, ask yourself the brutally honest question: “Am I only thinking about what’s best for me?” Or what’s best for us?” And if the answer is the former, then how can I rise above it? Now if everyone did that, what kind of world would we live in?
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