“We stand for freedom, for our rights, for social independence, for democracy, for freedom of speech, for everything, for a normal life,” she told The Associated Press from her hospital bed in Kiev. Excerpt from interview with Olesya Zhukovska
The words of this young woman, an ordinary Ukrainian citizen, a paramedic, should strike a chord with every American. They should give us pause, to stop and think about how precious these rights are. Right now in the Ukraine everyday people, most of them young, and middle class, are willing to die for them. I’ve listened to and read the interviews of these courageous people. I am amazed, and shamed by them. Amazed at their bravery and tenacity, shamed that they are willing to die for what we take for granted.
Sadly, we don’t just take these rights, rights protected by the Constitution, for granted, we are actually begging for them to be taken away. We ask the federal government to take away our sovereign right to bear arms. We look the other way when the FCC wants to monitor our newsrooms. We allow the IRS, a bureaucracy created to impose taxes on us, to dictate our health care. Is there any logic to that? We are happy to trade our personal freedom for a life free from worry or want. Let the government take care of us, just so long as we do not have to assume responsibility for our own lives. We willingly elect to office men and women more interested in increasing their own power and pocketbooks than meeting the needs of their constituencies. If we go to the polls at all, we choose candidates whose names we recognize, who are the best looking, the person our mother told us to vote for, or someone promising more free stuff. We are gullible and believe pretty speeches. We don’t expect our press to thoroughly vet our candidates and we don’t demand excellence from our leaders. We settle for men and women of lesser integrity lest we have to look too deeply at ourselves.
Meanwhile, half a world away there are those who are prepared to die for what we are happily throwing away. The very rights that generations of our own young men (and women, too) have fought and died to preserve. The rights that our Founders painstakingly preserved in our Constitution, that we might be a shining example of what a nation can become when its people are free. The kind of nation that the Ukrainian protesters are trying to create for themselves.
Yes, we should be ashamed
The recent trials of Curtis Reeves and Michael Dunn are sure to add fuel to the arguments for the increased need for more gun regulations. Reeves is on trial for the murder of Chad Oulson. Reeves had repeatedly asked Oulson to quit texting during the previews for the movie, Lone Survivor. He even went so far as to report the texting to the theater manager. Oulson, tired of being harassed by Reeves, picked up Reeves popcorn and threw it at him. Reeves then lost his cool, or panicked, or both, then took out his gun and shot Oulson.
Michael Dunn, is on trial for killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn was at a gas station in Jacksonville, FL and asked a group of teens in an SUV to turn down their music. After the teens castigated Dunn with a barrage of threats and profanities, Dunn claims he saw a weapon in the SUV (no evidence of which was ever found) so he fired several rounds at the vehicle, presumably in self-defense.
It is easy to blame these murders on an angry racist subset of society, with too easy access to firearms. But that only gives us an excuse not to look deeper. The uncomfortable truth, one that most of us are guilty of, is that as a society, we have lost our sense of civility. We have forgotten that good manners are not something that we demand to be bestowed upon us, but rather something we bestow upon other people. It used to be an automatic attitude, drilled into us as children, that in order to live peaceably with others we sometimes had to endure some inconvenience and discomfort. We took our unruly children outside the restaurant or theater; we made our calls and answered our beepers outside or in the lobby. Even though we might be tired, we offered our seats to the elderly and handicapped. We didn’t push to the front of lines, or cuss out store clerks. As children we were taught to respect our elders and those in authority. We said please, thank you and excuse me, because it was how people with a good upbringing behaved. Not because they were “magic” words we could use to get our way. We recognized that driving was a privilege not a right. We didn’t tailgate, cut people off, run red lights, or poach parking spaces on purpose.
We were also taught how to control our temper. We learned early that a tantrum would not get us toys or candy, but it might get us a spanking. Punching walls throwing things or otherwise destroying property wasn’t tolerated either. We were taught to try to find polite solutions to the people or activities that irritated us and if no polite solution was found, to remove ourselves from them.
Our homes, our schools, our churches and even the TV shows we watched, all taught us that everyone had rights. No one’s rights were more important than anyone else’s and those rights were to be respected. Sadly, not anymore.
Today’s gadget driven society feeds our egocentricity. We can be out in public without actually interacting with anyone. We have superficial conversations with friends, family, and even complete strangers, while ignoring the people right in front of us. We can hide in the apparent anonymity of a Face Book post or Twitter feed, and never have to really see the results of our words. We can blame guns, we can blame racism, we can buy into the ideal that we need more laws and stronger laws to protect us from each other. What we really need to do is some soul-searching, both individually and as a society. We need to ask ourselves how many more people have to die a senseless death before we recognize that our society is morally sick. It’s the kind of sickness that happens when people ignore the needs of their souls. It’s a sickness that no law, no government program can fix. It’s something we must recognize and heal ourselves.