"Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
If Charles Dickens wrote this today, more eyes would roll than hearts would quicken. In a time when shopping is called "patriotic," and the "free" market is seen as an expression of democracy, anyone who doesn't value job security, status, and financial stability more than character, courage, and the common welfare is seen asnaiveat best and abetting terrorists at worst. This is assuming, of course, we really know what anyone thinks since hardly anyone will risk sharing an honest opinion (even anonymously). 've all witnessed nodding to the most preposterous remarks, and, even worse, insincere parroting of the preposterous for nothing more than sycophancy. We repeat nonsense phrases until we think they mean something. ?We "reinvent ourselves, meet people where they are, get on the same page, invoke best practices, maintain focus, consider stakeholders, respect institutional autonomy, and identify skill sets and chilling effects." These irrelevant expressions are rendered cruel when cast by the academic elite who claim liberal erudition while talking about their last trip to Europe. Only in America could you sell the idea of a land of vast opportunity based on the fact that one person in ten million rose from rags to riches. ?You wouldn't place a dollar bet on those odds. ?Okay, given the popularity of casinos and state lotteries, maybe you would. Only in America is committee work, passing around a sympathy card at work, or giving someone a car ride, called kindness or heroic compassion. ? Only in America does generosity not require real risk, sharing, and sacrifice but only being "not as stingy as I could be." We not only don't want to feel responsibility for our common welfare or real sharing, we snicker at those who like the idea. ?This was bluntly illustrated to me last week when I relayed to a group how touched I was by a woman with only two coats who had given one away to someone without a coat. ? A wealthy man wasn't having it and replied, "I totally know what you mean. The other day a woman held the door for me when I was coming out of the mall with my hands full. It filled my heart with warmth and made all the long lines seem not so bad." I keep waiting for the rewrite of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Match Girl," the version in which she realizes that instead of striking the matches she can market them as bookmarks for members of the Oprah book club, "Let reading strike your light." This leads to her appearance on the Oprah show where Dr. Phil (or Oprah's new bald therapist) confronts her father, and her father becomes a recovering alcoholic and popular motivational speaker on Sirius radio. ?Her grandmother isn't dead after all but has been making Old Navy commercials, and they have a tear-filled reunion on "The View" where all the audience members are given Old Navy fleece or puffer jackets. She meets and marries Sean Lennon, and they start a multinational corporation of "Little Matchgirl" merchandise with proceeds going to third- world children who are taught pyrotechnic design. ?The story ends with all of them, amid a fourth of July extravaganza, singing "Baby, you're a rich man." ? We don't want to remember that she froze to death. ?She died for the same reason children are still dying. 're not doing what is ours to do to prevent it. ?As long as the "haves" continue to believe they're more worthy (a.k.a. smarter or more talented) concern for the common welfare will never be common, let alone our business. In "Dark Ages America," Morris Berman asserts that our rampant materialism and our erosion of character and humanity are too pervasive to reverse, and that American civilization is already lost and will collapse. ?His case is hard to refute. I guess like the proverbial little boy in the room of horse manure who keeps looking for a pony, I'm still hoping if we keep digging we might find a community-minded, collective conscience here somewhere.