My little maternal grandmother was a formally uneducated woman yet she possessed more wisdom than all the Solons we have sitting on Capitol Hill. She had that rarest of commodities, one which is called common sense and while it had not been learned from school books it had come to her through life experience. I recognized her genius at a very early age.
I will never forget sitting in our little living room one afternoon on returning home from grammar school. I had helped a classmate on the telephone the previous night with a math problem and was a little miffed that when I saw him the following day he never even said, “Thank you”.
Grandma explained the whole thing in a nutshell when she said to me, “There are two kinds of people in this world. There are givers and there are takers.”
As I advanced from grade to grade in school and the world of history opened up to me I realized how correct Grandma’s statement was. The whole world, at least politically, was full of givers and takers.
At one time most people were ruled over by Kings and Grand Dukes, Czars and Emperors with an occasional Queen thrown into the mix. They were the takers, empowered to be such by the Western doctrine of “The Divine Right of Kings.”
They lived, by the standards that then existed, in luxury, opulence and with the realistic expectation that all their needs, wants and desires would be supplied. They were, by virtue of their births the entitled ones.
But in order for them to continue this lifestyle there had to be those who would provide all that they needed. In those times, the givers were the peasants and those lesser members of the nobility who had sworn allegiance to the Sovereign.
Mostly it was the peasants who did the back breaking work, cleaning the castles, cooking and serving the food and doing all the other mundane chores which needed to be done to maintain royalty in its rightful place of honor. There was no token of gratitude from their liege lord for their efforts – as that was their place and why should one reward someone for doing a thing that was his bounden duty and rightful service?
Over the centuries. with the advent of more wide spread education. it occurred to more and more of us that being ruled by a person whose place was accorded to him by an accident of birth was not the most desirable way to run a country. Thus, other political systems began to be implemented in which the governors were elected by those who were governed.
This was a movement known as democracy which was not a perfect solution but, to the many, appeared to be a big improvement over the way affairs had previously been conducted. Beginning in the 18th century, this surging wave swept into history under the name of “The Age of Enlightenment” and it swept aside the English Colonies in the new world, transforming them into the United States of America and in later years led to the downfall of the monarchies in France and Italy and Spain and Russia to name only a few. While not everyone gravitated to democracy, there was a world-wide rejection of the old monarchical system and today there are few vestiges of it that are left.
As I mentioned, this new system was not perfect. Nothing that humanity attempts, no matter how genuinely and sincerely motivated is. As none of us is omniscient, even the best intended of our efforts often have unintended consequences which we did not or choose not to contemplate.
The “American experiment” is now well over two hundred years old. It has provided a beacon to much of the rest of the world for most of that time. But it is now staggering, perhaps because it is relying on its former successes, perhaps because those who crafted the dream have died off and been replaced with those who are the beneficiaries of their forebears efforts but have never done anything themselves to make the dream a reality.
While Grandma identified this struggle in her simple way as being a battle between two groups – the “givers” and the “takers”, I have a slightly different explanation as I have the benefit of having seen additional history since she taught me that lesson as a child.
Yes, there are two groups in America today. They are those who work for a living; and those who take from the working.
I am confident that, were she alive today, Grandma would agree with my common sense analysis of the way things are – because common sense, combined with a heavy dose of morality, were her dearest and most priceless guiding principles.