At the beginning of The Great Gatsby the narrator remembers something his father said to him when he was younger: “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one … just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” My parents said that to me too. Your parents may have said it to you. I think a lot of parents have said it in one way or another.
Most of us had parents who fed us and kept us warm, of course, but it was more than that. They read to us when we were small and got us books when we were old enough to read on our own. They helped us with our homework, took an interest in our friends, and drove us to after-school activities. They cheered for us when we did well — and even when we tried hard and didn’t do so well. And we had teachers, librarians, coaches, and scoutmasters who taught us things, sometimes just by the examples they set. Our neighbors looked out for us.
We live in a country where we can take it for granted that people are protecting us, keeping our roads and our food and our water and our medications safe.
Some people seem to forget about all of that. The claim “I made it on my own” suggests that no one helped us, encouraged us, taught us, or coached us, that no one built the roads we drive on, grew the food we eat, or started any of the businesses whose products and services we depend on, that no one believed in us, took a chance on us, or gave us our first jobs.
We can’t guarantee an equal amount of success for everyone – and we shouldn’t. But we can’t claim complete credit for our successes, and we can’t assign complete blame for other people’s failures. Hard work is a factor, but so is luck. So are the advantages we’ve had along the way. If I were hungry or sick or cold or unemployed I’d make some bad choices. You would too.
Don’t fall for meaningless promises from candidates who say they’ll make America great again. It’s already great. It’s been great for a long time. And greatness can’t be based on the idea that some of us can succeed while others not only fail but aren’t given a chance. Greatness can’t be based on the belief that people who don’t look like us or sound like us should be excluded from the American dream and shouldn’t have an opportunity to make their lives and their children’s lives better. Greatness can’t be based on the practice of forcing groups of people to the margins of our society, stacking the deck against them, and letting the ones who can’t keep up die on the side of the road.
We’re better than that. And we’re in this together.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.