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Winter has come. At our house we have a nice covering of snow. The house and yard look like a Currier and Ives Christmas card. The clean white snow contrasts with the green of the evergreen trees. My ski tracks wander into the woods to mingle with those of Bambi and Thumper. As I glide through the quiet woods, enjoying the balmy 15 degrees, life is good.
I am reminded of how fortunate my wife and I are to live where we do. We have a warm house and enough to eat. We enjoy the quiet of living in the countryside. There is the peace and security of a civil community shared with family and friends. We are fortunate to have the simple basic things that are necessary and make life enjoyable.
I am reminded that we don’t have all this because of our “rugged individualism,” hard work, or being more moral. Although we have always worked hard, we didn’t pull ourselves up by the boot straps. In many ways the good things we have are the result being lucky enough to be born into a country that, at least nominally, promoted the “general welfare.” It also helped that we were lucky enough to be born white.
Much of our success and well being is the result of our society. Yes, we were frugal, gardened, cut fire wood, and made do with less. But we were the beneficiaries of the post WW2 “welfare state.” As children we attended public schools, ate subsidized hot lunch, and lived in GI Bill purchased houses. Colleges educations were possible because of government scholarships and subsidized state universities. During our working years we benefited from labor laws, health and safety regulations, equal employment opportunity, consumer protections, and the many other economic rules of the game. Union represented jobs provided better wages and health benefits. Now a stable retirement is possible because of a pension program, Social Security, and Medicare.
None of this just happened. Santa didn’t bring it on his sleigh. It wasn’t the result of the “free market” or the generosity of employers. None of this was God’s blessing for our piety. It happened because many people, over many years, worked and sacrificed to create the social structures that now support all of us. It happened because people got together to advocate for a cleaner, safer, healthier, more just, more egalitarian society. They organized and worked for public programs and policies that benefited ordinary people. It was a hard struggle, but over the years progress was made.
I often worry about my grandchildren. What lumps of coal will be in their future stockings? Will they have the advantages I did? Will they grow up to have a good place to live with a decent job and an adequate retirement? Or will they be living in a totally different world? Given the social, political, and environmental problems we face, their future could be bleak. You don’t have to be a curmudgeon to think we have peaked as a country. When the water, soil, and petroleum are used up we will find we can’t eat our stocks and bonds. If we continue down the path of endless war, endless population growth, and disregard for evidence based decisions, our grandchildren could have a dark-ages future. Peace on earth and good will toward men (or women, or minorities, or immigrants, or other religions) seems far away.
But the good news is we can change. As Red Green says in “The Man’s Prayer, ”I am a man, I can change, if I have to, I guess.” Too often we don’t change until we “have to.” It would be better if we had the wisdom, foresight, common sense, or good leadership to deal with problems before they became a crisis. But we do not have to continue down the road we are currently following.
Social, political, and economic structures are not immutable laws of nature. They can be made more responsive to the real needs of people. We could insist on a more civil public discourse. We can create a better democracy. We could create a more sustainable economy that shares the wealth more equally. We can stop squandering and destroying the natural resources we all depend on.
Some of the necessary change we can simply start doing. Many of you know what I mean and are already doing it. We can reduce our personal impact on the environment. We can reject the shop-til-you-drop consumerism that thrives on artificial needs created with advertising. We don’t have to have the latest fashion, electronic gadget, a bigger house, or a bigger car. We don’t have to accept the domination of mega corp in our lives. We can stop buying from the rapacious companies that mistreat people or the environment. We can pay more attention to what is going on. And we can do our part to make good change happen. We can elect representatives that do what is best for the majority of people.
To begin we should reject the current leadership that promotes hate and division. We must stop being bamboozled by the divide and conquer tactics. We need to vote out the “scrooges” who say we can’t afford healthcare, free college, good schools, secure retirements, equal rights, clean water and air, or all the other necessities we need as a people. We can reject the Grinch and all the efforts to steal our Christmas. If all of us Whos in Whoville embrace the real spirit of the season- the spirit of giving, caring, and good will toward all- we can overcome. As Dr. Seuss tells us,
“Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to grasp.
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.
Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand.”
This Christmas we need to remember that no man is an island. We are all in this together.