Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Selfishness and Patriotism

"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."

I assume that most of my readers will recognize this quote from JFK's inaugural address in 1961. (Yes, you may find some interesting tidbits on the true origin of this quote, speculation that JFK may have heard it from his headmaster in school or that it may have been partially conceived by JFK's speech writer at the time, but I will look past those stories for this post, as it is the point of the quote that I choose to discuss).

It may be hard to imagine the political and social environment of the 1960's when JFK spoke those words, but it is not hard to imagine his meaning.  If you wish to read his entire speech, I have provided a link below and I encourage you to do so. His words encourage cooperation among the nations of the world, acknowledge the vital role that the United Nations could play in that arena, admonish those nations and people who use tyranny rather than freedom to govern, and challenge each citizen of America to participate in the improvement of our country.

As a child of the 50's, part of the baby boomer generation, someone who can distinctly remember the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, not to mention the 58,000 plus Americans who died in Vietnam, I am acutely aware of the sacrifices that have been made by some of my fellow citizens since those words were spoken.  Which makes it all the more puzzling why selfishness seems to have now become a patriotic trait of many people today.

Upwards of 800,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, yet the simple act of wearing a mask is too much to do for a significant percentage of our population. Every day they scoff at the notion that they should do something for someone else, that they should participate in stemming the spread of this deadly disease for their country. And getting a vaccine, which is free and effective, is far too much for this selfish crowd who prefer to believe internet podcasters and political pundits who value ratings above lives rather than the scientific community that, chances are, have helped develop some cancer or heart disease or breathing difficulty treatment, that has saved their lives or those of their loved ones.

We can't just put our nation, or our state, or our community, or our selves, first, at least not always and without exception.  If your neighbor's house is on fire, do you ignore it, not care if the fire burns out of control, and worry about it only when the fire spreads to your home, or do you CARE about them, do what you can to make sure the fire department has been called, perhaps even do what you can to reduce the flames? Do you act selfishly or with an understanding that we improve and prosper as a group?

Do you do unto others as you want done to you, or do what you want because you are "free"?

There seems to be a lot of talk lately about reclaiming our country from those who seek to stray from our Christian values. Seems to me that doing what is necessary for those in your family and community who are sick might be a christian act, which makes me think that wearing a mask and getting vaccinated might qualify as such an act.  

A little bit of sacrifice such as this pales in comparison to those who gave their lives willingly, to fight for our common beliefs, or via an assassin's bullet.  Are those unwilling to do what is needed to help America, guilty of murder when their words or actions result in even more people needlessly dying from Covid?  Perhaps that sounds over the top, but is it any less damning than someone who stands idly by while someone is strangled in front of them?  

At least someone who freezes when confronted by an act of violence, and is unable to act to save a life, has the excuse that they were afraid. In comparison, someone who refuses to wear a mask or get a vaccine because it is a violation of their freedom, could be called selfish, and a coward.

I don't place all the blame for the apparent belief that being selfish is patriotic on the  former president. While he certainly emboldened many to act selfishly through his example, someone who refused to remove himself from his business interests while holding the highest office of public servant in America, someone who willingly has inspired doubt in our election process just because he is a poor loser, the millions of Americans who continue to sit at his feet wouldn't do so if they had a stronger sense of patriotism, and a weaker belief in doing whatever I want to do.

I truly hope it is not too late for us to take America back to a time when its citizens were willing to ask what they could do for our country and then strong enough to listen to the answer through a filter of cooperation rather than selfishness. I guess only time will tell.  



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