KIMBALL, Neb. – The other evening in Kimball, an elderly fellow -- 81 years old -- stopped at a local convenience store for fuel. He was driving from Nevada to Michigan. It was close to midnight. The fellow wasn’t in the best of health and had lost a leg to diabetes. His prosthesis didn’t fit quite right and he was unsteady on his feet. A customer at the store noticed his plight and helped him put gas in his car. With mumbled thanks, the old fellow was on his way.
Unsurprisingly, that’s a story that didn’t make the news. It’s the kind of thing that happens every single day, pretty much everywhere across the land. People help each other. They don’t do it for pay, they do it because they make a conscious decision to treat their fellows with care and compassion, to treat others as they themselves would be treated. These little episodes of altruistic giving so outnumber instances of bad behavior that there’s almost no comparing the two. But wait, there’s more. The elderly fellow proceeded to the interstate. Remember, it was midnight, and he’d never been here before. He took the wrong ramp and entered the westbound traffic lane heading east. He made it to the next exit, only two miles away, and got turned around and headed in the correct direction. But then, for some reason, he exited, reversed his course, and reentered the interstate against the traffic once again. He repeated this loop several times until a State Trooper stopped him. In a very short time the trooper called an ambulance, which transported the old fellow to the local hospital. He was having a stroke. Within little more than an hour he arrived at a major medical facility for care. Again, this didn’t make the news. No surprise there. Most of us, most of the time, give little thought at all to police and EMS crews. We take them for granted. We also expect them to appear almost instantly when they are needed, and we are seldom surprised when they do so. We take them for granted indeed. I’ve heard several people opine over the last week or so that they can’t think of much to be thankful for. I think they are wrong. It’s not just that people are doing nice things and helping each other, either. There are places in the world – some of them not very far away at all – where evil holds sway and human beings are suffering in ways you can’t begin to imagine. Suffering right now, as you read this sentence. There are places where people do not and cannot help each other, where there are no police and no EMS crews and no hospitals. Where women and children are property, where rape and torture and burning at the stake are simply the way of things. No, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for here in America. That wasn’t always the case here, though, and it might not always be the case as we go forward. The things we take for granted and give thanks for perhaps one day per year are largely down to what those who came before us did. The systems they put in place, the way they lived their lives and the way they developed and hewed to a set of civilized principles. That fact doesn’t make the news either, does it? If you look to “the news” to get an idea of what’s going on in the world you will get a very skewed picture indeed. If you imagine the stuff that appears on your television screen or computer screen or you hear on the radio or read in a printed publication is objective, factual, informative and comprehensive, well, you’ve made a mistake. When I took journalism classes in college the mission of “the news” was said to be to inform, educate, entertain – and influence. I argued mightily with that last one. You can’t pedal influence if you’re informing and educating. Period. It can’t be done. It’s pretty clear the real intent of most news organizations and indeed of most journalists is to attempt to exercise some kind of control over their fellows by presenting words and images carefully crafted to influence the consumer. Influence comes first in most newsrooms these days. They can do that. It’s legal and constitutional. They can even call it news. But it’s not news, and that’s a fact. Nor is it moral or ethical. The world isn’t as bad as the news makes it out to be and that’s something to be thankful for. That’s not to say that bad things aren’t happening. They are. But “the news” only touches very tangentially on reality. Here’s something else to be thankful for. We (in the first world) have the internet at our fingers. It takes a bit of sorting and thinking, but with a bit of brain sweat and a dose of common sense we can all get a remarkably accurate sense of the state of reality on planet Earth. That’s something our ancestors would have paid a heck of a lot for. We can’t just leave it to “the news” to do the thinking for us, and we can’t trust the narrative put forth simply because “the news” – which has a remarkably bad track record – says it’s so. So what are we to do? Mostly, I think, the thing to do is be an adult about it, put the whining and complaining aside, and do it for yourself. The Founders got it right. Sharply limited government and the sovereignty of the individual citizen. But even before that, they declared that it is self-evidently true that all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. The necessary corollary which attends unalienable rights is unavoidable responsibility. Getting down to cases, how is the sovereign individual citizen to behave? The first step goes hand in hand with the First Principle. The First Principle is that all men are created equal. It follows immediately that to be treated as an equal human being by ones fellows, one must first and foremost treat ones fellows as equal human beings. All of them, and without exception. This is the hardest responsibility of all. I do not believe one can hew to this principle without working at it. We are individuals, after all, locked forever in our own individual mind and body. Our default nature is selfish. It has to be so, else we’d perish. It’s our nature. To treat others as we would be treated, and to hold ourselves to the same standard we require of others, this is the hardest thing. One can’t just say it, one has to do it. And to do it, one has to have good and sufficient reason, and that reason (or reasons) must come from within. It might be a good idea to look at the real world as well, to study it without the narrative filter applied by “the news.” Who knows, you might find more than you imagined to be thankful for in this season of Thanksgiving.