Today’s blog is written by my good friend, Sally Lacy.
Perception is a funny thing. Take John F. Kennedy’s quote:
“And so my fellow Americans — ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
That quote is remembered today on the 50th anniversary of his inauguration. As a young kid, I took this to be a pretty straightforward challenge to each American to be the best that he/she could be, to strive for self-sufficiency so that as an adult, a hand stretched out was there to help someone else, not to see what you could grab. (Cue soft drink commercial music for “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”)
I continued to assume this until yesterday when I heard other interpretations for the first time. I heard the one that goes, “Ask not what the Kennedy’s can do for you, but what you can do for the Kennedy’s.” I heard interpretations related to our position at the time in the midst of the Cold War. And then they brought out the big sling shot. (I’m trying to downgrade all rhetorical references to weaponry in deference to a renewed sensitivity that I happen to agree with.) They quoted Milton Friedman from Capitalism and Freedom.
Uncle Miltie first casts the government as paternalistic entity capable of handing out favors like lollipops at the doctor’s office after a well-child check up. Then he describes it as master, with us as servants, bound to do its bidding. Somewhere between “your country” and “your government,” M.F. (ooh, unfortunate initials) lost me.
My country is this beautiful part of the continent we call the United States–the wilderness, the farms, the cities. My country is the people, some of whom work in government, some in the private sector, some who are without paying jobs. I agree with the beliefs of some. I don’t agree with the beliefs of others.
Some disagreements are mild (the tomayto/tomahto variety), while some make my head spin (creationism, minimizing the impact of industrialization on the rate of global warming, most things Sarah Palin says.) Whatever our disagreements, though, I try to recognize our similarities as well. (Sarah Palin and I both wear glasses.)
If you do not agree with the policies of the current adminstration, I would never suggest that you leave this country. I don’t have to pretend my country is perfect or better than anyone else’s in order to love it. I just do. Which brings me back to JFK’s quote. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” It seems like such a huge request, but I think it’s played out in all of the small daily ways we practice kindness and tolerance toward each other and respect for our land.