Responsibility for world problems is ours

Monday, December 1, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:21 p.m. CST, Monday, December 1, 2008

I am fascinated by globes.

Unlike opening a map, there's something uniquely satisfying about spinning the globe when I'm searching for some unfamiliar place such as Uzbekistan. So when my son was a teenager I found a globe at a sale and bought it. At home, it sat on a table in a very busy area of our house. One day, I accidentally knocked the globe to the floor, and my son came in the room as I was hurriedly trying to repair it. He stared at me for a long time and finally observed, "You know mom, this is the story of our lives; we're always trying to put the world back together."He was right and I didn't know what to say, so I just kept squirting glue on the globe.


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Because I never really liked the way things were in this world, since I was a child, I made a decision to try to make it a better place than it was when I got here. I don't know that I've been able to do any good, but — I suppose I can admit it now that he is a grown man — I dragged my son into my scheme.

I never missed an opportunity to hone my skills. For example, during the civil rights movement, I probably attended more sensitivity training classes than anyone else. I wanted to make sure I could empathize with everybody's problems no matter how foreign they were to my own experience. I've worked hard all my life at tamping down my temper, so when the occasion arises I can reduce the level of tension in a situation.

With our current economic crisis, many of the people I know are fearful and angry. For so long, we were on a roll. During the 1990s, jobs were easy to come by and employers had to really struggle to find ways to attract and keep employees. With the Iraq war and corporate greed, things took a bad turn, as they were bound to do, and a lot of people are resentful that they are forced to suffer the consequences for the bad behavior of other people.

I don't have any money, so I can't make anybody's future more secure. All I can do is to be open to helping people in any way I can to get over it and get on with their lives. I have always lived simply and, as some friends have said, frugally. It's not that I have lived a deprived existence, it's just that I have never had a desire to live on a grand scale. Money just can't buy the things I want, such as love, justice and peace. The greatest fear of my life is that I might squander my mental capacities by failure to keep them in constant use. In other words, I don't ever want to find myself in any situation that would not require me to figure my own way out.

I am outrageously selfish when it comes to my mental discipline. Every day I encounter people who are allowing their brain cells to deteriorate by their mental laziness. You don't want to talk to them because they bring nothing to the table. They don't read anything worthwhile; they don't walk or exercise their bodies. Some who are retired brag that they never change, all day, out of their bedclothes.

I can understand those who feel there is nothing they can do to change the world we live in, but there are things we can do. You know, it's one thing to sit around and watch people destroy the planet by dumping all kinds of things in the landfills, to contribute to global warming, to pick up guns and to eliminate species of all kinds including human beings. But while it might be OK for you in your lifetime, what about those who will follow? What about your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren? What kind of world are you passing on to them?

And whatever else, we must face the fact that we voted people into public office who allowed the greedy to steal and wipe out workers' 401(k) plans, to engage in a preemptive strike on a sovereign nation, to operate investment banks haphazardly without regulation and to build cars with total disregard for environmental and energy concerns. And so, if we're angry, we ought to be furious with ourselves, beat up an inanimate object and do something positive to improve the situation.

As wise people have said throughout history, we've got the government we deserved. We are dealing with the consequences of our actions. People who wanted to force a democracy on Iraq, whether it wanted it or not, I'm sure think about whether the trillions of dollars we spent on that effort were worth it. Now there's no money to take care of our own problems, so we just have to suck it up, right?

We have gone from a peaceful existence to an engagement in two wars, from a country with a financial surplus to one with a deficit, from a nation in economic stability to one in economic distress. Satisfied?

Sorry, folks, we don't get to sit this one out. There's an economy to mend, an environment to clean up, a climate to stabilize, wars to settle and a culture to repair. It's our mess and we get to clean it up. Otherwise, your grandchildren will suffer for your neglect.

How do you feel about that?

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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