A little perspective every now and then can be a helpful thing. Particularly when that perspective arrives right before a holiday dedicated to gratitude.
At home in Georgia, we have problems. They’re significant problems, the kind that cry out for answers. But they are not – despite all the overheated election-season rhetoric about the death of democracy, or similar hyperbole – existential problems.
They are not the “get yourself smuggled out of your native land and across four countries on three continents to save your life” kind of problems.
But there are people out there who are facing those kinds of challenges. And facing them down.
I’ve just had occasion to hear about some of them at the Atlas Network’s annual Liberty Forum. The details were relayed in off-the-record sessions to allow for candor among participants, but I think I can relay the gist of them without betraying that confidence.
The fall of Kabul last year and the invasion of Ukraine this year have brought devastation to those peoples and their aspirations – but not finality. To lovers of liberty, the crackdowns in Iran and Nicaragua have been brutal to the cause of freedom, but not terminal.
It is sobering to hear that millions of people in just a single African country can make a living only as street vendors, a risky occupation given that their government deems it illegal. Or that elsewhere, women must cross into another nation to sell their farm products, bribing more than a dozen agents along the way by giving away some of their goods, or worse.
It is heartbreaking to hear that citizens in one Asian country cannot even plant a tree for future harvest, because the government owns the land and may seize the timber as well when it is fully grown.
Yet, it is truly inspiring to hear that some of their countrymen nevertheless wake up each day to work toward a better future for themselves and their neighbors.
This dose of perspective does not mean our problems are suddenly negligible. It matters, for example, that thousands of children in Georgia receive a substandard education.
It matters that dozens of counties in Georgia lack basic primary healthcare providers.
It matters that busybodies with a wee bit of power use it to impose their tastes on others, driving up the price of housing out of the reach of many.
You’ve heard the saying that so-and-so has forgotten more about some subject than others will ever know. It may also be true that Americans have let more freedoms atrophy than many other peoples have ever enjoyed.
When Americans argue about whether hurtful words ought to maintain First Amendment protection, or whether certain viewpoints ought to be tolerated in the public square, we lose sight of why we safeguard our freedoms in the first place. Those in faraway lands who have never enjoyed these freedoms might remind us.
Similarly, when we talk about ensuring equality of opportunity for our fellow Americans, it may be difficult for some to remember why that is a better pursuit than equality of outcomes. But then we see how dearly many other peoples fight simply for opportunity, and how much they accomplish with the few openings they do have. It reminds us how precious it is to have an equal chance in life – and how much more we can do to ensure that for our fellow Georgians.
When I say it is inspiring to hear these stories from around the world, I don’t only mean because those of us working to expand opportunity here aren’t being shot at – although that’s no small thing. I also mean that, if they are willing to do this work while in grave danger, how much less of an excuse do we, working in comfort and safety, have to shirk our responsibilities to others and our communities?
We have much work to do. And much, this year and every year, to make us thankful.