An unentitled sense of entitlement

March 9, 2014

blog_thad_rayFull Circle. A blog by Thad Ray.

It’s interesting how much controversy a Coke commercial can stir up. People are mad because the people in the commercial were singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. People are mad because there was a gay couple with a child in the commercial. People are mad because people are different from them, and have the audacity to celebrate the country that is supposed to encourage individuality. That about sums it up, right?

It’s ludicrous that Americans are upset about this. America, whose claim to fame is being the “melting pot.” America, the only country founded on ideals instead of nationality. America, land of the free, home of the brave, the most culturally diverse nation in the world, is mad because a commercial celebrates our differences.

It’s obvious that we’ve lost touch with who we are, and where we came from. We are a nation of immigrants, a nation of people bound not by religion, skin color or language, but a nation bound by an ideal, a nation, according to President Abraham Lincoln, “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Although America was founded on the concept of liberty, our history shows that we tend to have a very closed minded concept of what liberty is. Slavery was legal until 1865. Women couldn’t vote until 1920, and although the 15th Amendment, which was passed in 1870, afforded all citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, Native Americans (note the irony here) weren’t recognized as citizens until 1924.

That our nation was founded on ideals makes our history appropriate. In retrospect we can see huge errors in the progress of the country. But more important than our imperfect past, is, that there is demonstrable progress . We’re not a perfect country, any more so than any one of us as individuals is perfect, but just as we as individuals strive toward our personal moral and ethical ideals, so do we as a nation strive toward the ideals upon which America was founded.

Democracy by its very nature, is a slippery slope. It’s contingent upon the people taking part in the governing process, and as we all know, people have very different ideas about almost everything. Implicit in democracy is the idea of a social contract. That is, people enter into a society voluntarily giving up some freedoms that they would retain were they not a member of a society.

This social contract also implies that individuals who take part in it have responsibilities within the society in order to receive the benefits that society affords the individual. This is the essential philosophy behind democracy. That we as members of a democratic society have responsibilities in order that we may enjoy the privileges of living in that society.

Many Americans seem to have developed an un-entitled sense of entitlement. How many of us take the liberties we have for granted? Or think that by virtue of being born in America, we can reap the rewards of a democracy without putting forth any effort? In a nation with a government that’s supposed to  be “By the people, for the people” Americans have taken a back seat when it comes to fulfilling their part of the social contract. While they enjoy the privileges of the social contract, and are quick to complain when they feel like something or someone is infringing upon one of those privileges, they are hard pressed when it comes to explaining what they’ve done to earn that right.

A recent study of voting age Americans showed that more than one third of us can’t pass a citizenship test. Americans struggled with questions about the function of government, especially those relating to the Constitution, and current policy makers. The tragic irony of this is that while people love claiming that they have rights, at least one third of us don’t know what those rights are, where they come from, or how we got them. Adversely, more than 97 percent of people applying for citizenship passed the test.

It would be interesting to see a survey on the correlation between people who were upset with the Coca Cola Super Bowl commercial, and the people who can’t pass a citizenship test. I don’t know how it would come out, but I’ve got a pretty good guess.

The idea that people would be upset about a commercial that celebrates our differences, which, in essence, is the core of what made us a great nation, is flabbergasting to me. This is America represented in its best light. A unity that stretches across lines of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and yes, even language. The fact that the song was penned by a gay woman is apropos, as is the very song itself. What could be more beautiful than a diverse nation of people singing in different languages about the country they love?

 

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