Sometimes the universe just comes along and slaps you up side the head. I was the recipient of one of those slaps a few years ago, when the company I worked for (and moved to Mississippi for) laid me off after nine years. In the time it takes for you to read this sentence, my entire world was inside out and upside down.
After a few months of cursing the heavens and feeling very, very sorry for myself, I began to reconsider my priorities. I hadn't been passionate about my career path (marketing) for years. I'd lost touch with what was important to mefull self-expression and making a difference in the worldfor the sake of a fat paycheck. That process led to my working for the Jackson Free Press full-time, and editing BOOM Jackson magazine and teaching yoga part-time. I might not be making "corporate" money, but every day provides new opportunities for deep, soul-satisfying achievement.
When I look at the mess of America's economy, the parallels stand out in stark relief. For the last several decades, Americans have been chasing profits to the exclusion of nearly everything that makes life meaningful. Compassion for our fellow beings and our planet, educating our young people and providing equal opportunities for all, sharing our wealth to enlighten and creating a world where needs are met are goals at such a distance that they seem almost impossible to reach.
The NAACP report, "A Portrait of Mississippi," is a prime example of just how screwed up our priorities have become. In a world that loves to pare demographic information down to statistical averages, medians and means, just one of its eye-opening conclusions is enough to make you want to turn your eyes awaythe problems seem too big, too entrenched to be resolved. For example, the gap between the best-off whites and the worst-off blacks in Mississippithose on the top of the economic ladder and those at the bottomis equivalent to 50 years of progress. This means that there are people living in our state with a quality of life of the 1960s.
The report goes on to make numerous other comparisons. Mississippi spends twice the amount of money to keep one person in prison than we spend on educating a child, yet we seem surprised when 60 percent of school dropouts end up behind bars. We have decided that the only valid instruction about sex is one laden with moral judgments and ignorance of natural behavior, then can't understand why our rates of teen pregnancy and STDs are out of control, not to mention that we bear the cost of an international AIDS pandemic that kills millions every year.
Mississippiansespecially African Americans in the statehave shorter life spans, are less educated, and earn less, on average, than any other citizen in America. The poorest white Mississippian is, on average, better off than a black Mississippian doing well.
Why? One can point to many reasons for the inequity between blacks and whites in Mississippi, including institutionalized racism and long-standing poverty. But you simply cannot ignore our own twisted priorities.
What's more important? Ensuring quality education for our children, or putting one out of every 100 Americans behind bars (most for low-level victimless crime, by the way)? Is it more important to get a high return on stock investments, or a high return on investment in our people? More important to have a 45-inch HDTV, or access to nutritious food?
We all make choices constantly, whether we take responsibility for them or not. Kamikaze wrote in last week's JFP about how half the battle for change is showing up to make those changes. The other half of the equation has to be about taking responsibilitywhich doesn't equate to blame, by the wayfor ourselves and for what's going on around us.
Every major religion says that as part of the human family, our purpose as human beings must include caring for that family. "Whatever you do to the least of you, you do to me," Jesus said.
And we're not just responsible for what we do as individuals. We are collectively responsible for caring for the least of us. How well they do determines how well we all do. We're responsible for spending our money with companies that enrich more than their stockholders; we're responsible for the actions of the legislators we vote for; we're responsible for the health of our planet.
It's an interesting conundrum in a country that frequently champions the individual over the collective, and where "blame" and "responsibility" are frequently confused. But ultimately, the collective's health determines how we fare as individuals. If our planet is to survive global terrorism, global warming, AIDS and the host of other planetary issues that threaten us allincluding povertywe have to begin taking care of the least of us as if they are part of us. Because they are.
Reprioritizing must begin in our own backyard.
loved this column.
i really think people are starting to see the big picture now. i hope so, anyway! thank you for writing this ronni!
Ronni, You recently reviewed the following book. The author is on Book TV Sunday very early in the morning:
Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth
Author: David Korten
Sunday, April 19, at 4:00 AM
Thought you would like to know...
(I enjoyed your review.)
Some people do not include in their concept of .