I listened to the barbs and not-so-gentle insults President Barack Obama delivered – at himself and others – during the White House Correspondents Dinner over the weekend and thought what a great thing it is to have a sense of humor.
The past months have been filled with horror and unimaginable disasters taking place across the country: school shootings; the Boston Marathon bombings; a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas; ricin-laced letters addressed to leaders in Washington; etc.
We’ve seen Obama address the nation to help soothe the wounds, to promise the support of the federal government and to continue to give us hope.
And then we saw him laugh at himself, at the power-brokers in government, at the media, and we laughed with him because laughter and humor are healing too.
Sense of balance
There is still so much that we need to do to keep our sense of balance and sense of humor as we go about our daily lives in America. I can’t help but wonder, though, just what is it about our daily lives that so irks some people, inside and outside this society, to try to destroy that way of life.
“Our way of life” has been bandied about as some iconic thing that can be exacted and measured and packaged for wholesale consideration.
Let’s examine The American Way of Life.
We have had this experiment in democracy going on since the arrival of the first colonizers, who, shortly thereafter, began to enjoy some degree of economic success. They fought over the right to remain untaxed (unfairly) and declared their independence from England. That fight to remain independent is still strong and threads throughout the rhetoric of those upholding the Constitution.
Ah, the Constitution – built on the principles of individual property rights, including counting humans as property as it originally did for Africans in America – the document to which many still cling in order to defend their rights to mistreat others.
We are still amending it; i.e., making politically correct decisions. I encourage you to closely follow the current arguments about the Second Amendment which was a compromise with the Southern slave-holding states that allowed them to keep private militias in order to patrol (“paterollers”) the disproportionate number of human chattel they kept in bondage among them.
The American Way of Life used to encourage everyone to amass a huge debt; to leverage credit; to finance college education by mortgaging the family homestead; to join the army to “be all you can be;” and to not think about anything “over there” as a threat to us.
Now we are encouraged to save; to look for alternative means for financing our lives; to downsize; to modernize the military by using more technology.
Our American Way of Life is being challenged. For instance, the Chinese compete closely with us in the global market of ideas and with economic generators. We are no longer on top of the list that measures quality of life indicators; the Europeans left us a long time ago in the arena of universal medical care, parental leaves, mandatory vacation; and we have long been envying the diet and long life spans of the Mediterraneans and certain Far East islanders.
The American Way of Life. What is it that is so threatening to those who plot and plan and continue to try to bring it down?
Butt of jokes
Yes, we have freedom to move between our state borders but everything is not equal. Try buying health insurance in Texas; its four to five times as much as in Florida. Same-sex couples can marry only in a few states and “right to work” laws vary across the country.
Yes, we have a universal right to vote but it still
requires monitoring in some states: Florida has been the butt of the nation’s jokes every four years since 2000.
The American Way of Life? Once there were promises of a chicken in every pot and full employment. Now, it is a good day to not hear on the 6 o’clock news that there has been another bombing; a poison pen letter; a police chase of terrorists down the streets of a major city; school children making it through a full day without a shooting in the classrooms or on campus.
Against any threat
What gets you up in the morning? The promise of a freedom not enjoyed elsewhere? The lure of fortune to be made from a quick flip/investment? Opportunity to earn degrees? Freedom to travel in and out of the country at will? A feeling of ease from persecution because of your race, ethnicity, language, gender or sexual preference? Ability to change and fix your governing laws by your vote and civic activism? The right to bear arms to protect you against your fellow citizens? The right to an abortion? The right to marry the one whom you love?
I suppose if you answer “yes” to some, most, or all of the above, then you have indeed adopted the American way of life and are prepared to defend it – all of it – against any threat.
No? Even more reason to maintain a sense of humor in this venture of being American.
Antonia Williams-Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org