The Generosity Footprint

06/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Kathleen Reardon Professor Emerita, USC Marshall School; Author, 'The Secret Handshake' and 'Shadow Campus'

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say." Rave as they might about the patriotic nature of their motives, far right media pundits and those who follow them have at the base of their actions a deep-seated disdain for people who are in need of help.

They incite people to anger against those who have fallen on hard times, accusing them of burdening society.

We need to wrest the definition of human value away from those who celebrate the pure accumulation of wealth and replace it with an insistent recognition of what each of us does to better the lives of others.

The size of each person's generosity footprint should be a crucial measure of their personal worth no matter the prestige accorded their path in life. This view doesn't preclude the accumulation of wealth. It doesn't demean stature achieved in any field of endeavor. Instead, it calls for a reordering of priorities so that those who toil on behalf of others in need are valued more than the barons of Wall Street whose greed has rendered the necessity for generosity even greater.

As a society, we have been losing our way. We have narrowly defined success and enabled an upper class to accuse those less fortunate of living on "entitlements." And how is it that tax cuts for the extremely wealthy are not entitlements? Isn't that exactly, as Vice President Biden noted, what George W. Bush gave them at the expense of the middle class? Why is being selfish and despising of those in need considered more American than extending a hand to another human being? How did acts of kindness become evidence of creeping socialism?

Enough hypocrisy. Enough treating people whose blood runs cold to the needs of others as the best among us.

We should start asking ourselves and those who aspire to obtain our respect and our votes: "What is the size of your generosity footprint? What have you done today and yesterday for people less fortunate than yourself? Who are you, really?"

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