Monday, May 14, 2012

We Are Better Than That

Someone on the radio was pleading his case to change public policy tonight, and while I can't quite recall the topic, I remember thinking, "Yeah, right, buddy.  In today's political climate, even if you're right, you will get shot down for suggesting the government try to change THAT. And then he said something that both won and lost his argument for him all at once:

We're better than that.

I stopped listening to the news at that point, and must have switched over to the ipod.  But I kept hearing him say it, over and over. You could hear in his voice that he didn't just think he was right - he knew it - but he also knew that ultimately he would lose whatever battle he was fighting. He would lose because you can't force people to do the right thing.  We're Americans, and you can't tell us what to do.

We're better than that.

I remember visiting my grandparents in 2001.  Grandpa's health was failing.  He suffered from Alzheimer's, joint ailments, and we didn't know it at the time, but he had lung cancer. That was what killed him - even though he had given up cigarettes in the 1950s.

He and grandma were living in an RV on a campsite located on the San Carlos Apache Reservation near Peridot, Arizona. Uncle Russ was having to drive out there once a week (about 50 miles from Phoenix) to get him, take him to his medical appointments at the VA Clinic in Globe, and take him back home.  It was summer, and we sat with squirming babies in the tiny motor home, visiting beaming elderly people in 95 degree heat with two little vent fans blowing on the six of us.

I asked them why they didn't let the family put them up in a place in town?  We could visit more often, they'd be more comfortable, and we insisted it wouldn't be a financial burden.  Grandma recoiled.  "Oh, we couldn't live in an apartment in the city!" she said, in a tone that said, "That's just too low class."

We're better than that.

These days, I hear people complaining about our alleged "Big Government." They sneer about the so-called nanny state, insisting that if people were given all the options and left alone, they would chose the best path for themselves. This runs against all evidence to the contrary, of course, as most people tend to make their decisions based on everything but logic and reason.

People buy what they want, whether they can afford it or not, because it appeals to them.  They eat what they want because it tastes good, or is cheap - not because it will make them healthy. They rationalize their actions day and night, voting to deny others the right to do what they are sneaking around behind their spouses' backs to do.  They drive too fast, playing with phones and drinks and makeup; they are fine to drive because they only had a few.

We're better than that.

I watched people changing lanes without using turn signals, and speeding through the rain, and I thought about that statement.  What an assertion of defiant, unreasoning hope.  What a ridiculous notion.  Both true and false, the unassailable losing argument of the desperate.

I watch people bristle at civility campaigns, and defend the bullies running for office. I watch states violate individuals' rights to marry, and then watch the same people moan about Big Government intrusions.  I watch people stuff salt & fat-laden foods into bodies already on the verge of developing diabetes while they complain about health care plans.

We're not better than that.  We're exactly that.  We like to tell ourselves that we're above the rest, that we're exceptional.  It's our great pride that makes us think we've got answers and ideals worth invading and imposing on others - as long as no one tries to impose anything on US... because we're better than that.

But are we?

No comments: