Imagine a country……

As part of a graduate school course in counseling multicultural populations, I have been reading from an anthology of essays on various aspects of diversity. There is an essay by Holly Sklar, a Knight-Ridder op-ed columnist, entitled “Imagine a Country” written in 2006 and published in this anthology under the section on The Economics of Race, Class, and Gender. Sklar spends eight and a half pages inviting readers to “imagine” a country with a variety of social and economic ills, never describing the country but comparing it very unfavorably to a number of other countries- Jamaica, Phillipines, Mexico, England, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Germany, China, Australia, Brazil, and Russia, among others. She attacks this “imaginary” country’s child poverty rates, household income levels, college tuition programs, wage structure, home ownership assistance programs, CEO earnings, education funding, economy, job market, union participation, trade agreements, court system, healthcare system, use of energy, diversity in legislative bodies, military expenditures, etc. After exposing this “imaginary” country’s numerous failings and sins, she reveals that it is… guessed it… the United States. Her essay strikes me as a hit-and-run-driveby-guerilla-shooting using an assortment of questionable incomplete data.
At the end of the essay Sklar quotes Martin Luther King, Jr:
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but….one day the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life.”
So, I would ask Ms. Sklar, how are we to do that? Must we undertake a WPA style effort to level the roadway, flattening and widening it and eliminating crannies where thieves can hide? Or do we control access to the highway, put security measures in place, and eliminate the thieves who prey on travelers? Or do we provide every traveler with a secure escort? Or do we train and equip everyone to be a Good Samaritan so that no one will walk by a distressed traveler on the other side of the road? The debate is not over whether or not the Jericho road is dangerous and whether or not some people suffer. As Scott Peck pointed out so succinctly in the opening line of his best seller The Road Less Traveled twenty five years ago, “Life is hard”. How one undertakes the transformation of the Jericho road and what it will cost us all if we do nothing or do something in haste without considering all the consequences, it seems to me, is the point of the discussion.
And where is that “revolution of values” that MLK, Jr. foresaw? One cannot divorce public policy and the operation of political and social institutions from the expectation of responsible, moral development of its citizenry without reaping consequences. Yet for several decades many have demanded that Judeo-Christian values and references be removed from the public square so as not to offend anyone who practices some other faith or chooses to deny the role of faith altogether in personal and community life and, at the same time, demanded that institutions, organizations, and policies become more responsive, compassionate, equitable, and just. Those values do not arise naturally and uncultivated in the heart of a person or in the heart of a nation. To think that they do reflects a denial of the reality of human nature and group dynamics. Instead, such values have to be intentionally embraced by a society and taught to its children in all venues-home, school, church, media, recreation, etc., for them to be capable of being incorporated in all of the social, political and other institutions from generation to generation.
Sadly, I think that in the years since MLK,Jr’s death our nation has gone further and further from the place where we might see a “true revolution of values” that he envisioned. Such essays as Ms. Sklars that only berate and drag down the nation instead of lifting it up to higher levels are part of the reason why. Can we “imagine a country” where there are some good things happening? Can we list in eight pages enough bright spots, enough hopeful signs to gain confidence that the future is worth moving toward? I think we can.