Commentary - We are our governmentI am grateful for all of the good things and good people in my life. I won’t go so far as to say that I haven’t earned or don’t deserve the fruits of my labor, I have and I do.
By Dennis Q. Murphy, Alexandria, MN
I am grateful for all of the good things and good people in my life. I won’t go so far as to say that I haven’t earned or don’t deserve the fruits of my labor, I have and I do. What I can say, however unequivocally, is that I didn’t go it alone. I was born into the wealthiest and most socially fluid nation on earth, I wasn’t born to money but opportunity and encouragement were birthrights. Genetics availed me of intelligence while education and employment harvested it. And family and friends have always been there when and where I needed them.
I wasn’t born poor, I wasn’t born sick, I wasn’t born black, I wasn’t born handicapped, I wasn’t born to an addict – and I wasn’t born to bigots who disparaged anyone different from them. I was taught from my earliest memories to respect and learn from others. I was also taught that I was my brother’s keeper. I’ve long struggled with what precisely that means.
I can’t make decisions for others and I can’t be expected to be responsible for each and every one of their actions. I can however always recall when dealing with those less fortunate, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Having had better fortune than many in no way makes me their moral superior. Without empathy for others any successes are hollow. If I can afford to pay more than others for roads and police and a war, even one I might not believe in, that’s not only my right but also my privilege as a citizen. Taxes are the oxygen of a democracy.
Our government is far from perfect but then so are we all. Personifying your government as the embodiment of evil is actually a form of self-loathing for we are our government. When we listen to demagogues and echo their rants we’re servicing their egos at the expense of assuming our own responsibility for creating that “more perfect union.” It’s easy to be a victim but it’s also impotent.
The one common enemy shared by all living creatures is fear. At the most elementary level it’s our friend to protect us but it is so very debilitating taken to the extreme. Fear of the state, fear of your leaders, fear of your neighbors, and particularly fear of anyone who dares to think differently than you do. Fear brands all progress as impractical and unreasonable but that’s because practical and reasonable are coda for the status quo. Love, hope and charity demand more.
In game theory we speak of “zero sum” – experiences where one’s win is another’s loss. Enlightenment on the other hand mediates for “win-win” scenarios. Fear perpetuates “zero sum” surviving but precludes “win-win” thriving. The animal kingdom may be largely trapped in the former but what can and should separate humans as a species is the possibility of the latter. If we wallow in the former – fear, anger, suspicion, retribution – no matter how much self-satisfying defensive evidence we can cite – we might as well retreat to our caves.
Who we are is a penny ante game; the gift of life deserves the high stake challenge of what we are capable of being.
The primary obligation of every one must be to take proper care of themselves and this within the context of “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Right now, as a nation, I think we’re failing this test – with benign disregard or even malignant contempt for those with whom we have little connection. That universal health care is a debate, not a declaration, sits in testimony.
Though we’re not constitutionally a Christian nation, we’re underpinned by Christian theological principles. Is it not time to extol them beyond Sunday mornings? When it’s your time to adjudicate your life, will the word used be selfish or selfless?