George Michael: It's time for a reality check

December 02, 2011|By GEORGE MICHAEL

Imagine a man arrives at your front door at noon one day, totally unexpected, and hands you a check for $1,000 from an anonymous donor for you to use any way you want. You are overjoyed and astonished, realizing how much it helps with some pressing financial needs. Despite your inquiries about the source of the gift, no further information is offered.

Lo and behold, the same thing happens at noon the very next day. Once again, you are amazed and find it hard to believe your good fortune. You even share the news with close friends and family. The same thing occurs a third day, and a fourth.  You are overjoyed and now begin to consider some opportunities not even thinkable just a week earlier.

Question: What will you likely be doing at 11:55 a.m. by the fifth or sixth day? My guess is standing at the door, looking down the street.

Once during week three, the gentleman bringing the checks is 30 minutes late. You are a bit put out because you need to get to the bank. You have other things to do. Fortunately, he manages to be more prompt after that. And the checks continue to be delivered for more than four weeks.  

Then, one day, a shocking thing happens. It’s the first of a new month and you are waiting at noon for the usual delivery.  But the man with your check walks past your house and goes to the home of another family down the street. What is he doing with your money? You have already made plans and commitments for spending that money. Now, you are in a bind.  How unfair this seems.

This parable has some applications about our society and many people around the world today. Expectations can get us into trouble. Something that began as a blessing can become a fundamental right in our thinking. It is easy for a sense of entitlement to set in, making us believe something is owed to us. 

Riots in Greece and other European nations are evidence of this problem. People are angry and willing to take to the streets and destroy property to show their displeasure because of reductions in their support checks.  

Occupy Wall Street, albeit many-faceted, has demonstrators with a similar viewpoint. Apparently, many of them believe that life is unfair, that some have more than they need, and things have to be more equal. While we can sympathize with those frustrated by a lack of jobs, it is hard to miss the agenda by others who seem to be advocating “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” A nice, nifty slogan.  Karl Marx promoted it.

The mentality of rights and what we think we deserve is manifested in the current debate in our nation over adjustments to keep the Social Security system solvent.  National organizations have targeted conservative legislators like Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., demanding that he and others leave Social Security untouched; no changes at all is their objective. What is it that people don’t understand about sustainability and the need for adjustments in order to actually preserve the system?

Granted, most of us have paid into Social Security and it is not unreasonable to expect that we should get some benefit, some kind of return based on our contributions. But life expectancy has increased by 15 years since Social Security started and working careers have been shortened to 25 or 30 years for some occupations. Based on these realities, adjustments are necessary to keep the system afloat.

One of the tragedies about the number of deaths from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was the fact that many lifeboats were less than full. People in them could hear the cries for help but were unwilling to do anything about it. They were safe in their boats, not wishing to take any risk whatsoever to save others from the frigid waters. How sad.

Today, we have some Americans, safely in their Social Security “lifeboats” who are not only unwilling to consider how to save Social Security but even rail at those who want to throw out a lifeline. What will be left of Social Security for our children and grandchildren? How selfish and short-sighted is it to protect only our own interests with no thought for the future?

It is one thing to be ill-informed and sadly naïve about what needs to be done to confront current economic and social ills. Even worse is to be misled by demagogues of the worst sort, political leaders who use anger and class warfare to serve their own interests at the expense of the nation.  

George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is

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