31 August 2010



I saw a bumper sticker today (while down at the Kennedy Space Center): "Take my work ethic, not my wealth." That got me to thinking, as poorly and messily as that happens.

I was trying to figure out what the person thinks, and my best guess is that they think that someone is trying to take something of value away from them, their monetarily measured wealth, and give it to someone who's lazy, doesn't work, wants a handout, etc. Reminds me of the sign my dad's secretary had on her desk: "We fight poverty. We work."

I can't argue with the value of encouraging all to have a good work ethic. It seems almost obvious that while working hard doesn't guarantee success, not working hard is almost certain to guarantee failure. And I won't deny that there are shiftless people in this world who would rather scam you or just take it easy rather than work hard.

While Mack and I lived in Daytona Beach Shores, the Shores put in sanitary sewers. That meant (1) the building we lived in had to be hooked up to the new sewers, and (2) the old septic system had to be decommissioned. If I remember right, one of those jobs was done by what one would likely identify as a "Mexican" guy, even though he could've been Guatemalan or Texan for all anyone would really know. The other was done by what one would likely think a couple of "white" guys, although who knows their pedigree, etc. To make a long story shore, the Mexican guy worked his butt off, did his job, got in there and got out; the white guys spent most of their time loafing, standing around, talking about baseball, and griping about immigrants! Seriously. (They were right outside the open windows.)

So, sure, there are shiftless people, and they're not all black guys drinking 40s in paper sacks. Those exist, too, but they're not like some kind of supermajority. Given the fraction of black guys in jail for one thing or another—often some kind of non-violent drug offense—it's not like there's that many to have around in the first place.

So, then I wondered if the bumper-sticker person was thinking about the idle rich, like I would be more inclined to do. I mean, there are plenty of rich people who never did anything beyond being born to get the money they have. Oh, they may have pulled a few strings to make sure they get to get other peoples' money through tax breaks and the like, but that's not exactly what one thinks of as the Protestant work ethic.

So, you have people with this grievance, imagined in some part, about people not working and taking their money. And you have other people with this grievance, also likely imagined in some part, about people not working and taking their money. And I'm sure there are others with some grievance I'm not imagining but that similarly fits the "I work, I earn what I got, and those lousy bastards are trying to steal it from me."

They all can't be true, but that doesn't mean they're all false. I'm sure from some economic point of view there are numbers that can be come up with that tell whatever story one wants.

Surely we all know in our personal lives that holding onto grievances and coddling them is a surefire way to destroy the relationship into which the grievance arises, no matter how much one or the other party is at fault.

To nurture the relationship, one has to at least consider the possibilities of listening, of forgiveness, of openness, and of desiring to move forward.

How can we create a situation where people can air their grievances about situations and policies at the national level without nursing them?

Whatever happened that led up to the economic collapse of 2008, what matters now is figuring out equitable policies that help the nation, as an ensemble, grow and move forward.

Whatever happened that led to immigrants wanting to come here to work for less-than-minimum-wage cash, we have to find a way to bring those people into the above-ground economy and keep them here as citizens. We need more immigrants who want to become new Americans, not less.

Whatever happened that led one group of people to think they could own another group of people -- or that leads people now to think that kind of thinking was justified—we need to now realize that that wasn't us. We are neither the slave owners nor the slaves, unless we want to imagine ourselves as such. The impact of something that awful still affects us, as do so many past events, good or bad, but then is not now. Even a moment ago is not now. The grievance, real for some, imagined by others, just isn't worth nurturing any further.

However this society ended up deprecating the lives of that small fraction of us who love someone of the same gender, what matters not is to not continue embracing that deprecation, but to build a world that values families of all stripes.

Justice has its demands, but sometimes there's just no way to achieve any more of those demands than stating them as facts. You can't undo the past, but you can determine how the future will be.

I know this is stupid Pollyanna silliness, but I just can't imagine how to move forward without forgiveness and openness and letting go of the picking at it until it bleeds over and over and over again attitude. Let it alone. Give it a break. Put a bandage over it, hope it stops bleeding, let it scar, and let the scar blend in with the rest.

Nurturing the grudge, convincing oneself that one is being ripped off or threatened or hurt isn't worth it. I know that if you're in the frame that those slights are real, tangible, and dangerous that this will sway you little. But if you aren't totally hard-hearted about it, maybe just let the love in your heart create a place where you can forgive others the slights, real or imagined, against you and move forward together. Yes real slights need to be addressed and justice should be sought, but even in that framework there has to be a way to move forward without nurturing the grudge.

I'm not holding my breath, but I think we've got to try something different, since the way we—we all collectively: not just you, not just me—have been doing it doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere.

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