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GUEST COMMENTARY: Now is the time for togetherness

Monday, November 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 1:01 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 30, 2010

Any one of us could become homeless, poverty stricken, unemployed, underemployed, in need of more health care, a prisoner, a minority or at the bottom of some hierarchy.

Each day we become too comfortable with our lack of empathy for others who we particularly perceive as different and less than us. We revel in polarization, greed and self-interest.

In this age of political, economic, social, technological and environmental crisis, we need mutual support more than ever.  We appear to not be willing or able to provide support to each other. We aspire to a perceived corporate tough love philosophy towards all who we perceive as “others.” We ascribe high status based upon wealth, conspicuous consumption, titles and celebrity rather than integrity, generous spirit and good deeds.  

We are all engulfed in a realignment of values that have given birth to religious, political, economic, media, judicial and health malfeasance. We have adopted a corporate value system that resonates in all aspects of our lives to the detriment of the masses. The average citizen participates as an object to be manipulated, rather than as a beneficiary of good deeds intended to help the public.

We are all aware of our dilemma, but we seek to remedy our situation through a super leader who rides in on a digitized white horse and addresses our situation for us. I contend the leader we seek exists only in some “Simworld” while our condition is all too real. Too many of these sought-after messiahs fall way short of the mark. We need to seek other methods of addressing our problem.

History tells us we were not always so impotent in the conduct of our daily lives. There was a time when we could control our bodies, our families, our communities and our neighborhoods to a much greater degree. This control evolved from earlier times when life was much simpler. At first all actions were geared toward survival. These actions had the high level of integrity. They were based upon production and services that were direct and tangible. The exchanges had a built-in integrity.

When the transactions became less direct the opportunity for abusing trust increased. Legal systems and professionals further supported the lack of accountability.   The more man collaborated, the greater the possibility for trust issues. Simple codes of conduct evolved. Face to face contact enforced accountability. I can remember my grandfather, a small business owner, priding himself on sealing contracts with a handshake and proclaiming his word was his bond. Now the various stock computer messages you choose give none of the assurance my grandfather’s service provided. Accountability for the myriad services and products that are necessary for life and even death are promised in a labyrinth of steps and jargon that resist regulation. There is far too much outsourcing, public private partnerships and noncompetitive contracts enmeshed in our institutions. There is far too little transparency, accountability while opaque illicit activities toward employees, students, clients, patients, citizens and other vulnerably impacted persons who are the recipients of injurious behaviors. Insensitivity is touted as the new way of conducting public and personal interaction. Indifference is encouraged and fortified. Too many of our citizens are marginally employed, unemployed, steered into the prison industrial complex or to the military.

Actions must be taken to address the mess we find ourselves facing.

We must recapture the value and respect we had for life, particularly the lives of others, no matter how different we perceive it to be. We must recognize the new reality and attitudes we need to address. We need to create a plan to address the negative systems and behaviors, develop the opportunities and remove the barriers alone and with others, determine resources needed within the system and outside the system, and look for ways to help others do well.

We must educate others and ourselves to navigate the complexities of our hostile system and behaviors. We must hold our elected, appointed leaders accountable. We must demand and assist in simplifying policies that create vulnerability for beneficiaries. We must become digitized. If we don’t become technologically proficient we won’t be able to communicate. We must organize and vote on issues and not on personality. If we do not begin a process of education to understand promote and defend our interest and ourselves, we will reduce our existence to that of corporate robots and legislative and judicial victims.    

Quote: “Let the workers organize. Let the toilers assemble. Let their crystallized voices proclaim their injustices and demand their privileges. Let all thoughtful citizens sustain them, for the future of labor is the future of America.”  - John L. Lewis                       

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeretis for MU.


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