Don’t just look the other way

Monday, August 4, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:49 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Looking the other way has become part of a new lifestyle for some people. It’s not about being politically correct or even being polite, it’s about being embarrassed. It can either begin or end with the fact that it becomes impossible to look authentic war heroes in the eye until we know the true story about Private Jessica Lynch’s ordeal in Iraq. It’s not about politics or patriotism, it’s about human decency. The way it always comes down to, is in every aspect of life the way most older people’s parents told them it would.

Sometimes for expediency’s sake, we all resort to behavior that we like to believe is a one-time thing. Making a hero out of a villain at his funeral to spare the family’s feelings, is one example. Still, if we’re not careful, it can become a bad habit. We certainly don’t want to keep looking the other way while our neighbors and friends are losing their jobs and their homes are disappearing into the great wasteland of the chronically unemployed. We don’t want to turn away from the high cost of prescription drugs, that are forcing many people to do without food in order to stay well.

Many people continue to believe in the two-party system. Those of us who do not share that belief seem to be spinning our wheels, waiting for the current scenario to play itself out. We seem to keep thinking that some supernatural power or cataclysmic event will intervene and bring about changes. And we won’t have to exercise our duties as citizens and demand decisive action by our political leaders to address our grievances.

Now, there are two groups who are not interested in changing the political system. First, there are those who are financially profiting from the status quo. And there is a second group made up of folks who are intellectually lazy and can’t conceive of a democratic republic that can operate on any other than a two-party system. The latter group fears that the government would collapse without the Republicans and Democrats at the helm. They feel that all the people astute enough to run the country belong to one of these parties. It is probably this Jack and Jill Six-Pack-School-of-the-Uninformed-Populace that the two parties can thank for their longevity.

I think it is true that it is not as easy to emerge into the nation’s spotlight with new ideas, as it once was. The national media seem to be constantly on the lookout for new actors, singers and sports figures to put on public display. I can see how it would be virtually impossible to find a platform for new political ideas. News organizations that were once open to fresh perspectives seem to clamor for more of the same old newsmakers, flaunting the same old philosophies. One can switch from one news program to another and hear the same conversation without a break in the continuity. One would think it had become un-American to be an individual thinker. If politics did not play such a major role in the nation’s economy, it would be hard to understand why national news organizations devote so much time and attention to the small portion of the population that still goes to the polls to vote.

When you think about it, it is really almost too easy to look the other way. By the time most of us get our own households running smoothly, we have exhausted most of our time, money and energy. Getting involved in community organizations and activities swallows up another big chunk of time, money and energy. Making a concentrated attempt to challenge the powers-that-be would require the kind of commitment that most folks would be unable to handle single-handedly. Not only does it take massive amounts of money to run for public office, it sometimes takes a second layer of skin to ward off the personal and political attacks.

But, when you look the other way, you’re really turning your back on millions of men and women who made great sacrifices to help make this country live up to its promises. Did we inherit all these problems? What portion of them were amassed on our watch? If we don’t clean up the messes we make, we leave them to our children and future generations. Is that the way to stabilize a democracy? Will history say of us that we came, we used and we wasted our opportunities?

The tragedies that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, sorely tested our value system. Since that time, overwhelmed by grief, we seem to have been treading water trying to gain a foothold on solid ground. The legacy of faith that ought to sustain us in times of great distress was too often voiced over by the messengers of defeatism and despair.

We are no longer willing to look at what’s before us. Will tomorrow ever come?

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

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