If this year could be summarized in one word, it would have to be “shouting”; a lot of shouting. From Egypt to Greece, Russia to India they shout. Then there’s the Occupy movement which has grown from Wall Street to the main streets of Wisconsin, California, Florida and Pennsylvania. Everyone’s shouting.
However, the shouts of demonstrators around the world are, for the most part, a good thing. People should get mad and motivated to take action against decades of oppression. What concerns me most is what passes for news these days. “We currently live in a cable news media-induced echo chamber, where, much of the time, opinion too easily passes as fact,” I wrote in Shameless, an e-book released earlier this year talking about the reckless malpractice of some in opinion-media. And everyone is shouting over one another telling us who and what we should support or vote for.
In the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.”
Nevertheless, today’s reality finds many out-of-work, homeless, and dispirited citizens turning their thinking over to a handful of broadcasting, bookselling, talking zealots whose sole purpose seems to be the dissemination of misinformation, fear and unreason.
Fear cannot take the place of duty and unreason is no substitute for critical thought.
“Democracy cannot succeed,” Roosevelt said, “unless those who express their choices are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
Thanks to the Internet, we have available to us the riches of education in all manner of information in both words and video. However, we must choose wisely as to which words and video we use to educate ourselves.
Earlier this year, a reader sent me this reflective comment: “We seem to have lost something in this country. I am not sure I can define it. But I can feel it. Not everyone, and not everywhere; but enough of us feel that our common good has been sublimated to individual gain and a crassness that is unsettling.”
Maybe we’ve lost our sense of purpose. Maybe we’ve forgotten what we once stood for.
Our idealism, our spirit seemed to be centered in our collective purpose. We were a nation of people, who pulled together, and supported one another to overcome any obstacle or challenge.
“Americanism,” Teddy Roosevelt once said, “means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity and hardihood.” Those are strong words, proud words, words that define a country – its people and its purpose. But where is that purpose today? We seem to be more focused on obtaining rock-hard abs than rock-hard ethical standards.
Somewhere in our search for the good life, for our families and ourselves, we compromised. Not all at once, but in little ways and over many years. We fudged the numbers. Not a lot. Just a little bit because we had a deadline to meet. Or we took advantage of information, not for ourselves but perhaps for a worthy organization. We told lies of convenience that we thought wouldn’t hurt anybody until slowly, little by little, we justified, rationalized, and compromised what we once stood for.
If Roosevelt’s words seemed to define us as a country, the rest of his quote may appear surprisingly prophetic. “The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty first, the love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”
If we are ever going to return to the standards we once had, we’re going to have to stop the relentless need to finger-point and blame and begin to take a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we stand for.
Yes, we’ve made mistakes; a lot of ‘em, and BIG ones!
In his visit to America, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
The real America is about hope; it’s about optimism, and it’s about striving to live up to the better angels of our nature in spite of obstacles. In times of great personal challenge our country calls out to each of us to demonstrate more honesty, integrity, respect, responsibility and compassion.
With those ideals in mind, this is my prayer for Christmas:
May we pursue right without being self-righteousness.
May we be forthright in our business dealings with others.
May we demonstrate the courage of our convictions, even when the cost may be high.
May we be responsible to others as we would wish others to act responsibly.
May we respect our fellow man without consideration to race, creed, culture or religion.
May we show compassion to those who are in need.
May we pursue a reputation of honor more than we honor the bottom line.
May we encourage leadership over salesmanship.
May we criticize less and inspire more.
And May we be humble for all that we have, give and receive.
Merry Christmas, everyone.