Sunday, July 05, 2009


And so we begin year 234 in this great experiment.

I admit I felt (and still feel from time to time) some pessimism about the path our country is on; it seems that in government, more and more, people are more interested in what perks they can get for themselves than they are in doing what is really and truly right for the nation (or even their own constituents, sometimes).

But then, I look at the people around me, and my optimism is restored. We are a good people. We may have our faults and our downfallings, but we by and large want to do what is right.

I live in a fairly small town. When a family without insurance gets burned out of their house, word goes around - the churches, in particular, mobilize. Lodgings are found for them. People search in their closets for "gently used" clothes in the sizes that the family need. Toys are provided to occupy the children. It is almost like the old story of the Stone Soup - no one initially seems to have much, but they come together and in the end, the family finds themselves with what they need, provided by their neighbors.

Or when someone has massive medical bills, someone will organize a taco sale, or a benefit concert, or an auction of donated try to raise money to help the person.

From time to time, our little local paper will have a grateful letter from someone who had been passing through and whose car broke down. Or who left their wallet at the Chili's. Or who had some medical emergency - and people stepped forward to help. Someone turns in the wallet, a waiter remembers the people commenting on where they were going, hotels are called, the man is reunited with his wallet. Or good Samaritans come to the aid of the person with the broken-down car. Or something.

I think part of it is that in my town at least, people still have somewhat of what I call the "frontier attitude" - the understanding that the government either can't help or can't help soon enough, so people better pull together and help each other out. The whole "grassroots" thing is alive and well here.

There also seems to be an attitude of increasing understanding of the need to take personal responsibility among people. A lot of my friends have been talking about it. A lot of my colleagues - even those that self-identify pretty far to the left end of the political spectrum - they all understand that you should not count on the government for what you can do yourself. (And by the same token: a pretty hearty distaste for excessive government interference in people's lives.)

And there's a certain amount of pride among a couple of my friends, people who fought their way out of welfare and other forms of dependence on the government. There's a pride in being able to support oneself, and a gratitude - a lot of the folks I know who came "from not much" are also big supporters of their churches and other charities - because, as they said, "They were the ones who really stood by me when I was down and out" - there's the idea of paying it back, paying it forward, paying it however - but doing something to help others out.

And so I look around at the people in my town - the people I work with, the people I go to church with, the people in my AAUW group or the beautification council or other groups - and I don't see the sort of clamoring for more supervision, more assistance from the government, that is sometimes claimed of the American people. I also don't see the supposed slack-jawed blankness, the willingness to accept whatever they're told by the media or the politicians or the pundits: even people I know who don't have very advanced "traditional" educations are pretty much critical-thinkers when it comes to stuff like that. ("You have to ask yourself: 'what are they wanting us to believe here?' when you see stuff on the news," as one of the women in my Sunday School class put it one day).

So while I may not have a lot of hope about our current crop of politicians (or CEOs, for that matter), I have enormous hope about the American people - that there will be a groundswell of wanting to get back to work, of avoiding undue interference, of wanting to help on their own terms, without requiring the government to get involved. And may that come to pass. May we have good people, with the best interests of democracy and the nation at heart, who are less interested in being served than in serving, step forward and help us to course-correct.

Happy birthday, America. May we never forget why you were founded and the great freedoms we enjoy because we live here.

No comments: