BOSTON (CBS) – From the French writer who coined these immortal words, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” comes this thought that appear apropos for our holiday season…
“It is odd to watch with what feverish ardor Americans pursue prosperity. Ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they may not have chosen the shortest route to get it. They cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die, and yet rush to snatch any that comes within their reach as if they expected to stop living before they had relished them. Death steps in, in the end, and stops them before they have grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes them.” ~Alexis de Tocqueville (from Democracy in America)
Alas, old Alexis developed a reputation for well defined insight as he peered into the American psyche and our general way of doing business. It’s as if he foresaw the fights to the death over parking spots at overstuffed malls, or the endless treadmill that has us overdosing on caffeine in an attempt to squeeze even more out of a measly twenty-four hours. Even more of what exactly? Sweating over the latest app or download, texting till thumbs bleed, pouting at the prospect of the dude in the next cubicle acquiring a better set of wheels? There are many reasons to trust in de Tocqueville’s take on things back when he wrote “Democracy in America” in the 1830’s. I mean he hit the proverbial nail smack on the head with his observations on absolute power. But as much as I admire the economist/philosopher’s “big picture” retrospective on America, I choose to go with my gut, focusing on some less publicized cases involving people who have gotten it right. Warmth does exist In the midst of any cold spell.
I offer three quick examples that do their part to restore some faith. See if you’ll agree that despite the dire warnings of demise and the worrisome actions of the outrageous, we’re not quite doomed. Not yet. The Christmas spirit is alive and well, not on life support as so many in media suggest.
The first example is all about teddy bears. Lots of teddy bears. 23,096 to be exact. It’s the annual Teddy Bear Toss, an annual event held in Calgary, Alberta, home to our North American brethren that helps supply needy kids with Christmas gifts. The Hit Men, a regional hockey team, asks fans to bring stuffed animals to a particular game. They do so in big numbers and have a blast tossing nearly 25,000 of them onto the ice. No damage to the ice and no stuff animals are hurt in the process. They are quickly rounded up and the hockey players later hand deliver the toys to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Now that’s the real meaning of warm and fuzzy don’t you think?
Story two made local news and quickly became a hot topic around many a water cooler. Brian Christopher, a homeless hero who bunks at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, was out on the streets and found a wallet the other day with nearly 200 dollars in cash. He could have easily pocketed it, seeing he has one heck of a negative cash flow, barely enough to eke out a regular with two sugars at Dunkin’. Instead, Brian chose to do the honorable thing. He sought out the owner, returning the wallet and money promptly to her.
He has since received support from total strangers impressed with his deed. Along with cash and gift donations, he’s received job offers including one from the company that made the wallet he found. Christopher told the press that one has to live with the decisions they make and be able to sleep at night. His act of selflessness sparks in us a question and realization. That when tested in a similar situation, we have a Brian Christopher decision to make. He made the right choice which might end up in the long run helping him dig his way out of homelessness. (I’m proud to make regular contributions to the New England Center for Homeless Veterans. We owe our vets so much. I hope you remember them as well.
The third example is perennial and more personal. As many know I solicit donations for our own Children’s Hospital Boston (see www.jordanrich.com for details). I receive hundreds of cards and letters with donations of all sizes. Some of the most touching words are from listeners suffering emotionally or physically as the year draws to an end along with those unfortunate enough to be unemployed and hurting financially. Their gifts and sentiment helping kids and families are soul sent and genuine. From the young single mom whose tiny preemie son received critical pre-natal care to the great grandmother who credits her long happy life to the treatment she received as an eight-year-old at Children’s Hospital, they’re tales that reaffirm that despite what the sages have predicted and today’s professional cynics whine about, our society still has a solid bench of decent, loving, spirit filled folks who really “get it.” And those who so often “get it” end up giving back quite a bit more in return. I call it one of the secrets to our overall success and a reason it’s fine to have faith in the future.
So to 18th century economist Alexis de Tocqueville, I’ll grant that you were right on about a great many things when it comes to the American people. But as you and I know from our short time together on the planet, if one peers a bit deeper beyond headlines, there is a lot more going on to keep all of our hearts warm on a cold winter. Merry Christmas.