Friday, February 24, 2012

Cheap Dignity .. and what it costs us

Tom Friedman of the NYTimes, in a column about Egypt, warns against some leaders' tendency to go for "dignity on the cheap." Sometimes, we Americans do not respect the tremendous drive of other countries to attain/maintain/sustain DIGNITY. We're "on top" and it doesn't occur to us that others may then feel underneath and be driven by the motivation to feel otherwise.

Friedman warns that the cheap way to a sense of national dignity is “by standing up to the foreigners,” rather than to develop educational opportunities for its young people, improve its institutions, etc.

I recognize this! In high school, we had mandatory pep rallies -- "gotta support the team!" -- and talked very much about "school spirit." Years later my sons' schools used the same diversion - identify with athletic accomplishments of the schools' teams and "have pride."

The only rebellious act of mine in the late 60s was to stop attending mandatory pep rallies in the school auditorium on Friday afternoons. I just left for the day when they began. Called into the principal's office I had no problem stating the fact that the rallies had nothing to do with my education (which I was taking good care of) and, therefore, I had no need to attend. He did not argue. I stopped attending and sold my "letter sweater." Unfortunately, I was too young to articulate for myself or others the problem with this whole "school spirit" thing. I believe now, after reading Tom Friedman and Andrew Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death), that stepping away from pride "on the cheap" is one of the most important steps I took.

In our lovely country, we are in so many ways willing to do things "on the cheap" and wind up with no satisfaction - just restless ineffectuality. A Bible verse echoes in my head through the years, especially when I see grocery carts piled high with food items designed more for entertainment than nourishment:

Isaiah 55:2 "Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfies not? listen diligently to me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Simple Denial

Life in America offers an option not available in much of the world -- we can be simple-minded in our self indulgence. Like the wars necessitated by our compulsive need for oil, we are an ocean away from the actual costs of our conveniences. It takes some intellectual, moral dilligence to build an association in one's mind between the clean, easy-to-use gas pump at the local happy filling station with the blood arms and legs of those in countries affected by strife over this precious resource we so easily expend.

Likewise, my son recently told me he doesn't eat chocolate. I LOVE chocolate so had not really given any thought to its cost to others, only to myself ($ at the store). Now I'm challenged to own the reality - can I enjoy chocolate harvested by child labor? Can I taste sweetness when it costs sweat, tears, freedom of children in the Ivory Coast? Of course not - but I have been. In a world that offers us unlimited access to information, we also have unlimited access to ample amusements with which to fill our heads so we are unencumbered by harsh realities we wish to avoid.

Shame on me. Thank you, Josh, for the wake up call. Free trade products shift more cost to me, but reduce the human cost on the unseen side of the process. That's more than fair - it's necessary.