The entire world cheered last week when the 33 Chilean miners emerged one-by-one to the surface. Religion or political preference or financial condition did not matter; seeing those men rescued was a universal reason to feel good. It was something humanity needed. Good news has been in short supply of late.
When the oil well was capped in the Gulf of Mexico, that, too, was certainly good news. But it was hard to cheer knowing that millions of gallons of crude oil were now floating (or sinking) in the Gulf.
The 33 miners, clad in sunglasses to protect their eyes from the relative darkness of two and a half months trapped nearly a half mile beneath the surface, were raised in a rescue pod and greeted by family members, friends, and mine and government officials. The joy that everyone on the scene displayed was palpable. It was so intense and sincere that it spread around the world along with the live television feed. I can’t imagine anyone watching it that didn’t feel the happiness. I would imagine most people, regardless of where on earth they were, felt a little bit of pride, too. Something good had come from something bad. Those miners demonstrated that it is possible to overcome unimaginable adversity and emerge with a smile on your face. It was a triumph for all of humanity.
The day after the rescue, Brenda Knowles, the editor and publisher of The Observer News (and my boss), sent me an email suggesting a topic for this column. Brenda is a dear friend and one of the smartest women I know. I’ve learned over the years if something strikes her, it is well worth paying attention. In reading her email I realized that I couldn’t possibly express myself as well as she did, so here are her words:
“Last night I watched both the TV show Survivor and the rescue of the miners in Chile, flipping back and forth between channels. What a contrast! While the TV personalities complained about how hard their lives were and about being cold, wet, uncomfortable all the while bickering with each other, the REAL survivors in Chile established an unprecedented level of endurance, unity, leadership skills and spirituality. The contrast was remarkable and sad. Americans used to be known for their sense of fairness, strength, determination, and a “can do” attitude — all of that was displayed by the miners and their government officials. Now too often we are known for being poor role models, and for greed and self-serving entitlements. How unfortunate for the show (Survivor) that they actually went up against real survivors. Do you suppose anyone else saw this contrast?”
I think a lot of people saw contrasts between those who whine and complain and those who emerge victorious from true adversity. While the miners were by no means perfect — they now admit that in the first days of their entrapment, fist fights had broken out and there was an incredible sense of despair felt by all — in the end, they worked together and overcame challenges that are inconceivable.
Americans are still all of the things that we used to be known for. By and large, Americans are fair, strong, determined and have a “can do” attitude. The world still looks to us for leadership, and we are still leading.
Seeing it from within, it is difficult to look good in an election year. There are significant numbers of people who are highly motivated to tear down their opponents. One party says that everything is horrible and getting worse. Another says that everything is getting better. No matter what guy is talking, it is always the other guy’s fault entirely. So, who is right? No one. No one is right because an election is all just a game. Once the election is over, then those elected will get back to some semblance of work until the next election year rolls around and it happens all over again.
It is an ugly, frustrating and often nauseating process. But it remains a process that is envied and admired around the world. That ugly process works for this country and it has been working for the past 234 years. Depending on the circumstances, some elections have historically been worse than others and certainly this election year seems destined to be among the worst. But I doubt very much that it really will be. There have been some pretty ugly elections in this country long before any of us were born — and there will be more. But if 33 men can emerge smiling from a subterranean prison after two and a half months, I am fairly confident that we can survive an election year. As with all things, this too, shall pass.
If anything, the political process in the United States has mellowed considerably over the centuries. In 1804, Aaron Burr, a sitting Vice President of the United States, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, a former secretary of the treasury, in a duel. You don’t see that kind of thing going on anymore (yes, it’s funny to say, “I wish” but really, you don’t. That’s not leadership). Oh, and guess what? It was an election year. Surprised?
The reality is that, regardless of your politics, politicians are, by and large, not going to make your life better. Having seen the inner workings of Washington, I know that elected officials have their hands full with the day-to-day job of keeping things running. In a sense, it is no different from a typical household — going to work, earning money and paying the bills. Along the way they take an occasional night out for the odd Congressional Proclamation and other things that are important to some and ignored by many.
The beauty of the United States of America is that you can truly become who you choose to become. You have the freedom and the power to do as much or as little as you like. If you are willing to invest in the required education, you can be a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist. Or you can dig ditches. We always need ditches and that is honest employment. You can become an entrepreneur — it’s incredibly easy in Florida and around the nation. A business license can be had for just a few dollars and voilà! You are in business. Of course, the success of that business depends upon your hard work to make it successful. Unless you want to start a hazardous waste dump or a strip club, your elected officials generally don’t much care what you do. It is up to you.
Besides working hard (or not) for what you want, the key, I think, is to keep it positive. The world is weary of the bickering and bad news. Thirty-three men in Chile showed us all the right stuff. It is the stuff most of us have somewhere inside. It is the stuff that America was founded on. It is the stuff that this nation has succeeded with. It’s still here and it is happening every single day in every city and state. Be a decent person. Be considerate and caring. Feel something for others. Keep it positive. We will triumph. We most certainly will triumph.