I was sitting at a traffic signal this morning at 7:30AM. I had gone out for breakfast. It was Thanksgiving and the streets were empty. No people, no cars. I sat there on a side street watching another car waiting for the light to change. It was a long light. The driver couldn’t see me.
There was absolutely no reason for him to be sitting there. He could simply drive through the light and no one would be the wiser.
As we sat there I realized that there was no way the fellow in that car was going to move until that light turned green. That little act of order tells much about our society…and what we can be thankful for this 27th day of November 2008.
In so many places in our world, the order that gives us opportunity doesn’t exist. People don’t wait for signals on empty streets, they don’t understand just how important that little act is.
A friend and I were walking down Nanking Road in Shanghai a few years ago. We were accompanied by a couple of young college students from China. The stores were filled with the most current CD’s for $1 and sets of Microsoft XP for $15. I commented to the students that the selling of “knockoffs” was thievery. The comment in return: “So what.”
There was no irony in the voice, just a statement of fact, her fact. She simply didn’t see that stealing the software or the music on the CD was wrong. Her ethic wan’t wrong or misguided, it was simply nonexistent.
Don’t get me wrong — plenty of people do bad things here every day. But, in their heart they know it’s wrong. That understanding, of right and wrong, is what we can be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
The order that we have in our society allows us to worry about how much the price of our house has fallen, rather than worry about where we are going to sleep tonight. It enables us to fret about the value of our 401K instead of trying to steal a few bits of food so our family can make it another day.
The order and freedom we have enables us the riches to worry about the number of parts per million of some chemical or other in our water rather than dying of thirst. We can fret about the cost of health care instead of dying of the simplest of diseases.
This is a day to be thankful for what we have, what we have earned, and what we and our ancestors have done to create such a society. We knew that it was wrong to be oppressed for our religions, so we came here. We knew that the tyranny of a king was wrong, so we invented a government that represented the people. As we matured, we struck out against the tyranny of slavery and spilt more blood ending it than in any war before or since.
We knew that to keep the freedom and order we cherished we must protect it with our treasure and our blood. And we have done so, often to the scorn of others.
Yes, we make it look easy. What the world sees is the result of our labors, not the labor itself. This is mainly due to the fact that most don’t have the order in their society or the freedom needed to succeed through our own individual labor. The freedom of choice simply isn’t there.
This ethic comes from 250 years of pain, failure, mistakes and successes. It doesn’t appear overnight. We learned from trial and error. But we have learned.
So as we sit around the table this afternoon, it would be good for just a moment to remember that it’s not only the successes we have, but also what we have learned from our failures that makes us who we are. It’s the order in our society, the waiting for that green light, that gives us the space to do as we will and to succeed, or fail, based on our perseverance and abilities.
Happy Thanksgiving, 2008