11/12/2012 04:53 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

A Time for Shared Sacrifice

Yesterday was Veterans Day. As I reflected on the day, saw the ceremonies honoring our men and women in arms, and listened to several individual stories of their gallantry, pain, and loss, I came away profoundly moved. The sacrifices they have made for our country, for all of us, merit the honor, gratitude, and remembrance we give them. One day of thanks hardly seems enough, for so many of them paid with their lives and so many others pay every day of the life they have left.

Sacrifice for the greater good is ennobling. It forever gives lives meaning, for those who sacrifice for others know what they have done. It binds these veterans to each other in common values and shared commitment. It infuses the national spirit with patriotism. It makes us grateful and reminds us that the price of freedom is paid by many young people in each generation, an investment that they have made on our behalf.

America needs more self-sacrifice, not for its own sake but for our individual and collective future. For too long now, we have asked a very small segment of us -- the men and women of our armed forces, our armed law enforcement, our firefighters and first responders -- to take on much of this task. As a nation, we have not asked enough of the rest of us. Certainly, many of us sacrifice for our families, friends, neighbors, and often for those in distant communities and lands who have suffered personal and natural tragedies. We have done so because we are good people. Americans are empathetic and generous.

But our nation needs more from us. We have too much debt. Too many of our citizens are out of work. Too many are ill-educated. Too much of our common resources -- infrastructure and environment -- is ailing. We cannot fix these problems alone. But we can do more than we are doing, if we do it together -- if we are willing to sacrifice.

The tenor of our times, unfortunately, is to focus on what we want not on what we can give. Higher taxes are for someone else to pay. Adjustments to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- changes that could be small yet have profound impact on the future of these programs and our indebtedness -- are "off the table." Corporate subsidies and tax breaks are essential -- at least the ones my corporation gets. Corporate profits and executive salaries have no limits.

Are we not willing to sacrifice? Why are our leaders not asking us to do so? Why are the President and Congress not willing to set the example, by compromising on their own demands to help us find common ground?

It is just historical circumstance that Veterans Day is followed on the calendar by Thanksgiving. But it is more than happenstance that both holidays express great gratitude for what has made us a nation and given us the good lives we have. As among those who protect and serve us, so among each other, sacrifice for the civic good is ennobling, fosters a sense of honor and duty, makes us better people and gives our fellow citizens a sense that they should also make a commitment to improve who we are.

We need more of this. It is time for our leaders to ask more of us. And it is time for us to respond so that, in future years, we will know and take pride in the fact that we did not ask only a few of us to take the responsibility that should be shared by all of us.