Make America great again



Dear Editor:

Once upon a time there was a fortunate family; we’ll call them the Robinsons. They lived by the proverbial “work hard and follow the rules” rule. And, unlike many others, their hard work was rewarded. They were prosperous. They lived in the biggest house in the neighborhood, had the most stuff, drove the biggest cars, sent their kids to the finest schools. They were fortunate and they knew it.

Accordingly, they were generous. When the neighborhood summer party rolled around, they always brought the beer and brats. When a neighbor fell on hard times, they were the first to help out. When the Jacobsons’ house burned down, they put them up in their garage apartment. When Mrs. Davis fell ill, they had their cook make extra meals and bring them over to her family. When Mr. Rodrigues lost his job at the mill, they hired him to do odd jobs around the house.

In short, the Robinsons had a sense of their good fortune and felt an obligation to share. Consequently, they were the “first family” of Middletown, respected and beloved throughout the community.

But then something went terribly wrong. The Robinsons began to suspect that neighbors were taking advantage of their unselfishness, that they were “suckers” being duped by “freeloaders” hitching a ride on their generosity. Slowly their hearts hardened. Their sense of good fortune turned into one of entitlement. They thought that their hard work was somehow harder than that of others, that they deserved their good fortune. And, it followed from that that their neighbors must not be working as hard and must have deserved their misfortune. That the Jacobsons’ house had burned down because they were careless; that Mrs. Davis fell ill because she did not take care of herself; that Mr. Rodrigues lost his job because he was not a good worker.

The Robinsons stopped coming to the summer block party, stopped bringing the beer and brats. (And, to tell the truth, they were a bit surprised that the party went on without them.) They built a fence, installed a remote-controlled gate and turned inward to bask in their own superiority. Outside they hung a gold-lettered sign, “Robinsons First.”

But, of course, just as our mothers taught us, selfishness is self-defeating. Selfishness makes one smaller, not greater.

When the storm passed through damaging the Peters’ house and the neighborhood took up a collection to help out with temporary living expenses, the Robinsons did not contribute. When the local elementary school needed funds to expand, the Robinsons voted “No.”

But, the neighbors found a way to help out the Peters family. The addition to the school got built with the help of other good people.

Gradually, the Robinsons shrank from view. Where once they were leaders, where once they were respected, now they were increasingly irrelevant.

There was a time when the Robinsons knew how to be both first and generous; now being first simply meant having more, being small and selfish. Once being great was about extending a helping hand; now it meant withdrawing that hand. Once the Robinsons knew that responsibilities came with being first, that it was about service. Now they took “first” as being about self — and they became smaller as a result. They forgot that their greatness came from their generosity; forgot that it is hard to be both “great” and selfish.

Once the Robinsons were great because others declared them to be in a simple human act of appreciation for their generous, caring and occasionally noble actions. Now the Robinsons’ “greatness” is proclaimed by a hand-written sign hung pitifully on their locked front gate.

The moral of this little story is one that we all learned years ago at our mothers’ knee: it is good to share. Indeed, some take the moral to be even older: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

 

Stephen Weber

Hancock

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