Friday, December 14, 2012

Hope AND Change? Hope WE Change?

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Between these lines is a letter to the editor from the Albany Times Union of Friday, December 14, 2012.

I wanted to follow up on Bettina Stoller’s letter (“Capitalism mars Thanksgiving Day,” Nov. 28).

She is not alone in bemoaning businesses being open on Thanksgiving night. I, along with most senior citizens, remember when most stores closed at 5 p.m. on Saturdays and remained so until Monday. Business open on holidays, save St. Patrick’s Day, were unheard of.

If the general public would not patronize these stores on these days, they would not open. It makes me wonder: Who is the most greedy? Buyers or sellers?


The above letter does give credence to the concept that behind most of the things wrong with America stands the American people.

President Clinton, in his first inaugural address, said "Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."

I place these two items together because they remind me that our country has the potential to be great, but that we are currently not tapping that potential.  By "our country" I mean us, the people, not the government. For the most part, our government(s) is just a reflection of its citizenry. When it is weak, it is because we are; its strength is our strength: right, wrong, or indifferent, it reflects us.

As we head towards the "fiscal cliff" (another Y2K?) I keep seeing reminders that our country has become a "blame" country. We spend all our time identifying what we don't like, complaining about it, and blaming some one or some group for it. Very rarely do we claim the wrong as our own, and take an active role in trying to correct it.

By active role, I don't mean sit-ins, walk-a-thons, or any kind of protest. I mean actually doing something constructive. Mr. Morrissey, whose letter I quote above, should not shop on days when he thinks stores should not sell. If he wishes to go beyond that, he should start by finding ways and means of educating the public as to how non-holiday and non-Sunday shopping is all we need. When people stop shopping on Sundays, stores will be closed on Sundays. He should not take a moral high ground and claim that stores should be closed because, well, because they should be closed.

At any rate, I see us Americans spending too much time and energy expecting, or even demanding, that others change their ways. The burden of solution is constantly place on the "other".  As President Clinton was inferring, our solutions have to come from within.

Speaking of 'within": US citizens should acknowledge that they are the ones who vote, not  big money. The only way that big money can influence your vote is if you let it, i.e., if you are gullible.  Gullibility has a cure, and that is education. As Thomas Jefferson put it in a letter of Sept. 28, 1820 in a letter to William Charles Jarvis " I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves ; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. " (see here).

In his notes on Virginia, Jefferson also stated the the object of primary educations was "To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing; to improve, by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; to know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains, to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; and in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed." (see here)  I would have to say that we, as a country, have a long way to go to live up to Jefferson's ideas. We have to shore up the education of our citizens, not to fulfill the wishes of big business, but to meet the needs of our democracy.  Our democracy must involve all its citizens, not just some politicos in Washington or elsewhere.  Right now, it doesn't. Too many citizens are too passive and too reactive. They need to be active citizens.
I hope that changes will occur in America soon regarding our discourse on society's ills. Constant complaining about one political party by another, or one social group by another, or one ethnic group by another, will get us nowhere. As Alexis de Tocqueville stated "Those that despise people will never get the best out of others and themselves." Perhaps its time that we started working together.

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