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Citizens Not Politicians Make America Great

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
What makes America great? It’s not our politicians; it’s our people. A government can only be as good as the people it governs. America has always been blessed by people who have balanced a commitment to personal responsibility with a shared commitment to the commons.

It’s all too tempting to focus on the devastation of the recent series of tornadoes that ripped apart cities from Joplin, Missouri to New England. But the true story is not the devastation of the tornadoes themselves; it’s the story after story of fellow citizens and neighbors who immediately came to help and have continued to respond with prayer, encouragement, support and contributions.

Even in a crowded metropolitan area like Los Angeles, if the local news covers a story about a family in need, the response is heart-warming, overwhelming, and immediate. In America, you are not alone. Americans care, and they put that caring into action.

The depression of our age has been termed “Learned Helplessness”—the belief that nothing we do can make any difference in what happens to us. In the past, newspapers would primarily focus on local problems and people responding. We were a powerful people because we could see evidence daily of our ability to make a difference.

Now, any disaster in the world is brought to us in two minutes, and we watch transfixed, sure that nothing that we can do from our living room will make any real difference. We send funds, but too many remain observers of things we can’t control. Instead of getting involved locally, it’s too easy to “awfulize” about disasters that we believe only “government” is big enough to fix.

In reading my father’s memoirs, the reality of the Great Depression was brought to life. He wrote of two other distressed families living in the family homestead. He talked of being hired out to a neighboring farm for room and board and $4/month that was used to help pay his dad’s mortgage. The only Christmas my father remembered was the one his dad told the kids, “There will be no presents this Christmas. A poor family that’s come to town needs the money more.”

It’s the same today. After providing a brief keynote for the Greater Conejo Valley Community Foundation’s Ninth Annual Spirit of Community Awards that honored teachers, policemen, sheriffs, firemen, military service men and women, volunteers and area non-profits, all in attendance were reminded of the impact community service can have on those who are served and those who serve. The applause and the shared tears spoke volumes about the importance of community.

As columnists, it’s far too easy to focus exclusively on the big national problems and to criticize politicians, but we should never forget to balance such efforts with attempts to honor the heroes who make us better and challenge us to do our part. So today, let me join others in honoring Dr. Frank Dawson who has helped thousands of patients since the inception of the Conejo Free Clinic in 1976, the Hospice of the Conejo who has consistently helped people face death and helped the living get beyond their grief to live again, and teachers of the year Cynthia Gyure and Catherine Prater who, with other teachers, work tirelessly to bring education to life in the hearts and minds of their students. They are all inspiring!

These challenging times may be tough on many Americans, but I am optimistic that Americans will continue to take care of those in need. For Americans believe in collaborative community problem solving. In school, that may be called cheating, but, in America, it’s called neighbor helping neighbor.

Instead of “awfulizing” this week, get involved helping in your community. Ronald Reagan said it best in one his oval office addresses: “I’m not taking your time this evening to ask you to trust me. Instead, I ask you to trust yourself. That is what America is all about… It’s the power of millions of people like you who will determine what will make America great again.” May it always be so.

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