We are our Choices

We are our choices
By Jim Coogan

Almost monthly we see newspaper stories featuring people who have reached bottom. Whether it’s a result of substance abuse, a low paying job, loss of employment altogether or maybe facing prison for a crime, these individuals are portrayed as victims of a cruel environment where the cards were stacked against them from the start. .

Reading through these sad stories, one at first is moved at the plight of the featured individual. They are about to be evicted from their motel room, have used up all of the assistance available and are being forced to leave the state. They have no family to turn to. Usually there are children involved so it compounds the tragedy. But there is always more to the story. At about paragraph 12, we find that the person who is down and out dropped out of school. They had a child at 17, another at 20, and now at age 30 have another—all three by different fathers who are nowhere in the picture. If it’s a male, he’s also a school dropout, been in prison for some minor offense and is responsible for a child or two that he can’t support. He’s had a checkered work history and currently can’t find a job.

These are the typical scenarios of most of the people who end up falling through society’s cracks. And as much as their stories are heart wrenching—and they certainly are, the fact is that with few exceptions, most of these poor souls are where they are because they’ve made bad choices.

Am I being judgmental here? Certainly I am. I’ll admit that I’m a bit uncomfortable doing it. And my liberal friends will be aghast at my unwillingness to see the whole picture. “You’re not taking into consideration the circumstances,” they will say. “You can’t hold people responsible for the environments they came from.”

I beg to differ. There’ no doubt that some people clearly have more options than others. A wealthy white person has a wider range than say, a poor person of color. Women have historically had a more narrow range of alternatives than do men. But everyone has choices. Ultimately we decide who we will be when we make them

Rarely do I find myself standing with conservatives on just about anything. But they all agree, as do I, on three fairly basic rules that can give anyone, regardless of background, a better than even chance of success in this society. The first rule is finish high school. The second is not to have a child before marriage. And the third? Don’t get arrested before the age of 25.

It’s hard to argue against that.

Asylum seekers

Jewish refugees turned away

Asylum seekers
In June of 1939 a group of European refugees arrived at the port of Miami aboard the German liner St. Louis. There were almost one thousand people on the ship, most of them Jews trying to escape the Nazi violence that had driven them from their homes. They were denied entry. A number of them ended up back in Europe and were sent to the death camps. America, which bills itself as a generous and compassionate country, has a mixed record of welcoming people who are fleeing tyranny. It seems that if those fleeing oppression fit the model of the dominant culture, the doors open a lot easier for entry then they do for people with the “wrong” religion, the “wrong” color, or the “wrong” language.
Right now the focus is on a large group of migrants who are marching through Mexico toward our southern border. The president has called this an “invasion” and has sent elements of the U.S. military to the U.S./Mexican border to stop them. Whipping up a climate of fear, he has framed this migration as a threat to national security. And this description plays especially well with his political base.
We ought to ask how this group of people, in large measure made up of women and young children, is a threat to American security. Are they armed? Will they storm the border and overwhelm any attempt to stop them. Are they all gang members? Will our military fire on them?
People with any sense of reality know the answers to these questions and will see this for what it is – a manufactured crisis that is being used for political ends. The word invasion seems hardly the proper description for a group of poor people fleeing the murderous region of Central America. El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the entire world. Law and order has largely broken down. Gangs rule the cities. Honduras isn’t far behind averaging 20 homicides a day.
Illegal immigration is certainly a problem. There is no denying that. Obviously we can’t take all of the people who want to come here. And their might indeed be some bad people in that caravan. We need an orderly process that can screen those who might intend to do us harm from the great majority of whom just want a better life. The sad fact is that both our political parties continue to refuse to craft a solution to the issue, using immigrants as a means of scoring political points. Meanwhile those who are desperate to escape horrible conditions in their own countries have few options. Stay and die or take a long shot to get to the United States.
At a time like this, we should remember people like those Jews aboard the St. Louis who were refused entry and left to a dark fate by a callous nation. We should see clearly that where once America was seen around the world as a beacon of hope and compassion, under this current administration our country has become instead, a place of hate and intolerance. The current leadership goads its supporters to see immigrants as eroding the cultural values and norms of this country. It’s the same fear that has stigmatized every ethnic group that wanted to come to America. On the eve of the mid-term election we should ask ourselves – is this who we are? Is this what we want our country to be? And we should think about our own families and why they came here, all the while realizing the truth that a nation, like a tree, becomes stronger when it is grafted with new stock.