Editor’s note: Dennis Wyatt is on vacation. This column first appeared on Nov. 21. 2007
How do you say thanks?
It’s a question worth pondering as millions of turkeys give their all for an American tradition older than the republic itself.
Most of us — myself included — have a hideous tendency to act as if we have it rough.
The bounty we enjoy in America today is still unparalleled in the annals of civilization. You can pull out a statistic here or there about other “more progressive” countries such as Sweden, but that’s like comparing apples with peanuts. This is a country of 325 million people that opens its doors much wider to the rest of the world than any other nation. Super-size any other nation where you think the quality of life is better and I bet you they would slip way behind the United States.
Our freedom to succeed and fail, to worship as we please, and enjoy free speech didn’t happen overnight. Nor did the fact we have some of the least inexpensive and plentiful basics of life on earth from food to fuel. Bellyache, if you like, it is an American birthright. But we are spending less proportionally of our income today than our fathers did and certainly their fathers for basic essentials such as food, clothing, shelter, fuel and even transportation.
If you doubt that, remember here is a huge difference between a “need” and a “want.”
Basic transportation doesn’t mean leather seats, monster tires, or a 450 horsepower engine. Basic nutrition doesn’t mean filet mignon, frozen entrees or even Taco Bell. Basic clothing doesn’t mean designer jeans, leather jackets, or $100 purses.
It wasn’t too long ago that it was considered extravagant to have a home bigger than 900 square feet with three bedrooms even if the family consisted of more than just one son and one daughter. People shared rooms. Housing cost less because the market was driven by need and not wants.
Even medical care — the favorite punching bag of politicians and others these days — is much more advanced and accessible. The big difference today is we as a society demand that every possible measure be taken to save lives that wouldn’t have happened a decade or two ago. That takes money. And if they don’t succeed, we want the absolute right to sue when doctors fail to measure up with God.
The world we live in offers most of us leisure and recreational opportunities our grandparents never dared dream since they were more worried about saving the world from Hitler and the Axis Powers as well as keeping their families fed and clothed. We buy gadgets that become necessities. And nothing seems good enough to last long. We’ve got to have the newest cell phone, the newest music device, and the latest high-speed computer or Internet connection.
It’s a far cry from when a one-party line was considered extravagant, a transistor radio you could actually take with you was on the cutting edge, and when the world moved at the speed of humans and not computer chips.
Getting caught up in the whirlwind of technology and consumerism isn’t necessarily a secular sin although there’s a lot to be said for “waste not, want not” especially when it comes to the environment. Having said that, the air and water as well as overall stewardship of natural resources is tremendously better today than it was a century ago.
It isn’t a good thing to act as if all that we enjoy today was created in a vacuum including the right to speak our mind without fear of prosecution or execution.
Those who set out for the New World seeking religious freedom, to escape tyranny, or to simply build a better life for their families did so at great sacrifice. The decision to leave everything behind is gut-wrenching in itself. The journey — and the New World — could be deadly.
And just because our collective ancestors left their homelands whether they were in Asia, Europe or Africa didn’t mean they were out of the woods. Some tried to extend Old World thinking that can be traced back to before the Romans, African tribal nations, or the Ming Dynasty that slavery was somehow OK as long as they weren’t the ones being pressed into servitude against their will.
But despite all of the warts and the scars, this country has continued to evolve from that seed first planted near Plymouth Rock that man was meant to be free of submission to other men.
Divine providence alone doesn’t do the trick. It takes people willing to do what is needed not just for self-preservation but for future generations.
We are fortunate that so many gave so much to get us to where we are today living in this gift known as the United States of America.
It is a tremendous debt we all owe.
This column is the opinion of Editor Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.