Peace and Good Will Aren’t Gifts

Phil Anderson

One common theme of my writing is that we are all better off when everyone is better off. We are all in this world together and there is no “planet B.” If we are to have a prosperous, peaceful, sustainable society we have to work together for the common good. Peace and good will toward men just doesn’t happen. It takes work and often years of citizen action. This article, an update of “Ruminations on the Season” (December 28, 2017) reminds us that we are indebted to the activists who came before us. We should be thankful they cared enough to work for peace and justice. 

I am reminded of this with my own life and situation. My wife and I are fortunate to live where we do and to have a comfortable life. We have a warm house and enough to eat. We have an adequate, secure retirement income with access to healthcare. We have family, friends and  a pleasant home in a peaceful community in the northern woods. We are fortunate to have the simple basic things that are necessary to make life enjoyable.

We don’t have all this because of our “rugged individualism” or hard work. It wasn’t because we were more moral. We didn’t have family name, money, or connections. Although we always worked hard, we didn’t pull ourselves up by the boot straps. We were part of a community and benefited in many ways from a society that, at least nominally, promoted the “general welfare.”

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. College 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 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 crises. 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, debt-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.” 

We need to remember that no one is an island. Peace and good will depend on working together. When we do everyone can be better off.