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Commentary: Why Bother?

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

I once saw a hilarious video skit on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show starring Bette Midler.

In it, Midler played a world weary woman joyfully recounting her life's hopes and dreams, only to slump at the end of each tale in deflated resignation murmuring, "Why Bother?" A lot of people these days in their most productive years are snorting "Why bother?" to anything they feel has no relevance to them. Me? The older I get, the more I appreciate the chance to champion something larger than me. A 'liberal do gooder'? Nah. I'm just onto something I've always known but not always lived: we're born, we grow up, become adults, we get old and we die.

Pass it on!

If we'd acknowledge our own mortality, we'd more likely try to make a difference, however small. Like my lonely still-working elderly neighbor. In poor health, she eats Little Debby cakes on weekends unless I prepare her lunch. My responsibility? No. My pleasure? You bet. Old people, the young and animals; those who are helpless without us. Why bother?

When Oprah was on David Letterman's show, he asked her how she keeps from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of misery she sees in Africa where she's building a school. Her response was, "you do what you can." Like the difference between indifference and ignorance, an "all or nothing" approach to altruism makes no more sense than, "why bother?" voices a meaningful life.

Despite a supposed religious return to so-called "core values," America has become more wasteful, not less; it's getting, not giving that motivates the masses. When did we institutionalize the word "privilege" to suggest open-ended carte blanche to conserve nothing and consume anything anyplace anytime? Despite national war footing and dwindling resources everywhere, our leaders ask little or nothing of us. So what American "values" are we talking here?

Many say the American mantra, "It's a free country" overrides the maxim, "waste not, want not."

That explains the non-response to the frightening drought we're suffering. Despite a 20 month, 20-inch shortfall, we're drenching those unquenchable lawns per normal. Running water non-stop while we shave or brush our teeth. Taking 20 minute showers (Twice daily). Why bother modifying our behavior? Maybe some get-a-grip logic? Transporting pre-teens to ballet or baseball in a Range Rover? Using a billion Styrofoam cups daily for liquids? Why bother?

Consider Warren Buffett, giving his billions to Bill and Melinda Gates, who see their wealth as a responsibility to a larger world. Then consider the several year waiting list worldwide for those wanting the $10,000 Hermes Paris Birkin ladies handbag. Which is - I repeat - a purse. Wanna bet Melinda Gates isn't preoccupied with status pocketbooks.

I'm betting the Gates and Buffetts will die happy, less because they were filthy rich and more because they enriched other people's lives. Overnight, we have super wealthy super heroes to admire for all the RIGHT reasons. You, I and our children should envy these people's use of money and power as the genuine definition of "family values."

No less than we, they love spending disposable income.

But disposable lives?

They're not buying it.

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.

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