I have always been raised with a competitive spirit — be a better dancer, get the higher SAT score, etc. My parents always chastise me for comparing myself to someone I had already defeated. They believe that it is healthier to strive for and learn from those not yet beaten, instead of relishing a past victory. Though this is wise advice, it is very difficult to follow, especially when considering our greatest accomplishments; however, it is time that America started measuring up to a higher standard.
America boasts of being the best country but fails to address how it can claim that title. Our democracy is far from being the best in the world. Few people vote compared to the large voter turnout in other countries, such as the Netherlands; few challenge the establishment compared to the thousands in the streets in Kiev, Ukraine and few choose to change or participate in the government — apparent in the high incumbency rate.
It is true that Americans have many freedoms, yet we are all too eager to cherish the most harmful one — freedom to be blissfully ignorant of our actions. By remaining oblivious, we allow our decisions to continue ravaging the rest of the world. We lack perspective, as our primary decisions include what to get our loved ones for the holidays.
What we use for recreation has the potential to help billions of people: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the hunger prevention Web site FreeDonation.com estimate that “it would take $13 billion a year to end hunger for the Earth’s poorest citizens, (while) every year, $18 billion is spent on pet food in the United States and Europe.” Time magazine also reported that “it would take 2.5 billion gallons of water a day to support 4.7 billion people at the U.N. daily minimum,” while that same amount is used everyday “to irrigate the world’s golf courses.” This is especially distressing taking into account that only about a third of the world’s population has access to clean, safe drinking water.
We have an uncanny ability to turn our eyes away from the consequences of our actions, while similarly remaining ignorant of our inaction. Americans grasp an unyielding version of the truth, which dictates that only we have the correct answers. With this narcissism arrives a desire to ridicule and humiliate all other ideas. Few people understand the concepts of communism, but are eager to dismiss it by saying it conflicts with democracy. The literacy rate in the South Indian state of Kerala is at 90 percent (which is relatively unheard of in any Third -World state) mostly because of measures put in place by the Communist Party, which was elected into office.
Americans pretend to value all life, but place a higher premium on our light-skinned counterparts. We care little about the health conditions of the impoverished because we have relatively easy access to health professionals and medicines. Would AIDS still be a threat if it affected Western countries more prominently? The Centers for Disease Constrol and Prevention explain that “in the late 19th century, (tuberculosis) killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe.” While it has been eradicated from the West, tuberculosis remains one of the leading killers of our Asian and African brethren, even though it is a disease that can be cured with six months of medicines. Nearly half of all people infected with HIV have tuberculosis, which is especially dangerous because tuberculosis accelerates the onslaught of AIDS.
The second I was born, I was chosen to be one of the luckiest people in the world. I was to lead a life of health, education and prosperity. Had I been born down the street, my life could have been marred with fear, illiteracy and poverty. While growing up, I learned the differences between myself and my playmate, who happened to be our employee. When my sister and I attended school, the servant, who was also under the age of 10, would do chores. When I was enjoying middle-school fieldtrips, she was getting married.
I can no longer accept the notion that this is life. I had nothing but luck on my side to be born into the family and lifestyle I have been afforded. There is much for us to learn and understand about our actions and our inaction. We need to question our leaders, our choices and ourselves. We have the resources to do so as students at one of the best universities in the world. I echo John F. Kennedy’s comments about the value of this university and our presence here: “This University is not maintained by its alumni or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle. There is certainly a greater purpose, and I’m sure you recognize it.” We must recognize it.
I would like to thank those who challenged me — I learned most from you.
Chirumamilla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.