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Making the world a better place

Posted By Russ Roberts On October 29, 2010 @ 11:24 am In Politics | Comments Disabled

Right now, a child is crying. A blind woman is walking the streets of New York asking for help at an intersection. A beggar has his hand out. A classroom full of students awaits the teacher’s entrance. Someone’s heart is breaking. A friend’s wife is in the hospital and he finds himself overwhelmed in so many ways.

Someone needs you. Do you help? Do you look the other way? If you help, how do you help? With all your heart and soul? Or are you bitter or bored or distracted? Is your phone ringing? Or are you checking your email while you’re listening to a friend’s troubles? Can you find a reason to do what is easy and what is best for you? Or do you help?

These are the decisions we make every day. What we do and how we do it make up our lives and the quality of the lives around us, the family and the friends and the strangers. It goes way beyond compassion and devotion to our friends and family and strangers. It’s how we do our jobs and the spirit we bring to everything we do–work, play, and family—the full range of responsibilities and obligations.

We don’t have any data on these daily encounters. We count jobs but be don’t count devotion to the task. We don’t measure how many workers go the extra mile for the customer, or how many employees are patient with the annoying customer even though they didn’t get enough  sleep the night before. We don’t measure how many people smile at the homeless person who is lonely, we don’t count the visits to the hospital to comfort the sick and dying.

We don’t know if there is more devotion in 2010 than there was in 1910. We don’t know if there is more in California than there is in New York. But we know they are important. We would never say they are trivial or fleeting simply because they do not get measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis or the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A few weeks back, Thomas Friedman wrote a piece on the Tea Party movement [1], dismissing it as the Tea Kettle movement:

The Tea Party that has gotten all the attention, the amorphous, self-generated protest against the growth in government and the deficit, is what I’d actually call the “Tea Kettle movement” — because all it’s doing is letting off steam.

That is not to say that the energy behind it is not authentic (it clearly is) or that it won’t be electorally impactful (it clearly might be). But affecting elections and affecting America’s future are two different things. Based on all I’ve heard from this movement, it feels to me like it’s all steam and no engine. It has no plan to restore America to greatness.

No plan to restore America to greatness. Thomas Friedman doesn’t know where greatness lies. Greatness is all around us. It doesn’t come out of Washington. It comes out of you and me and how we live our lives. We make the world a better place not by advocating some new public enterprise but through our devotion and love and patience and kindness to the people around us. We make the world a better place one minute and one person at a time.

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[1] a piece on the Tea Party movement: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/02/us/politics/02teaparty.html?_r=2

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