Consider Japan and Holland

After the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, everything imaginable was jumbled into vast piles. Within days, citizens had taken it upon themselves to begin the great work of restoring order. Nobody told them to do that, but they did, because they care for each other and for their country. Among these tasks was a peculiar one. The wallets of the living and the dead, along with family photos, were being brought to local police stations by tens of thousands. Complete with the cash therein. A great deal of police time was being used trying to find the owners of these wallets, photos, and money.

Virtually nobody took advantage of the situation to steal money from anyone’s wallet. Japan may be the only nation in the world where such decency is so universal.

In Holland, public debate has sometimes centered around the provision of health care and other elements of the common good. The ethic of caring for the wellbeing of one’s fellows is so strong that few would even consider a system that did not provide health care for all. This is true of the justice system and other elements of the common good as well. The Dutch ethic is to assure that no one is hurt by the system, that all receive the public benefit. This strong moral feeling was one brought about by the church, and it carries over to all parts of life in the Netherlands.

Compare these examples to ourselves. The fact that some three million wallets were turned in to Japanese police was news. The fact that one wallet is returned with cash to its owner in the US is usually enough to make it a news item. Is there any doubt that most tsunami wallets in the US would simply disappear, maybe even if they were turned in to the police? No one would claim credit for their disappearance, just as no one in Japan took credit for turning them in.

It’s very clear that we do not care about our fellow citizens enough that we would insist on something so essential as universal health care. It means nothing to us if people die because they can’t afford ordinary health care. We don’t care if people who were wiped out by floods or storms months or years ago have received no assistance. We are rugged individualists. We are responsible for ourselves. No weakling government handouts for us!

These things are symptoms of our national sickness, of our indifference to the fates of our neighbors, the ones Jesus told us we should love. This abhorrent condition has been solidified as principle on the right.

Here’s what people actually value, what they believe creates a good life: enjoyable supportive relationships with family and friends; development of their personal abilities; being appreciated by society for what they contribute. It is the people in our lives who count, the neighbors and friends, even the rest of the citizens of our great multicolored nation. There doesn’t seem to be any element of rugged independence, any belief that we stand by ourselves. Yet that’s exactly what Republicans claim.

Rather, we should consider how to cultivate those very important human values, such as caring for our fellows as much as ourselves, that we see in daily life in Japan and Holland.


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