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By John Long

What in the name of Martha Washington is wrong with this country?

After all, the news described three horrifying mass shootings in a week. Political discourse seems perpetually to get uglier and uglier. There are forever stories of corruption and abused children and chilling crimes of violence that make our blood alternately boil or run cold.

What has gone so massively, disastrously, unacceptably wrong in our nation?

OK, now breathe a second. Let me take us in another direction. What is right with our country?

I certainly won’t deny or minimize the issues above and a thousand more. We assuredly have problems; we are duty-bound to try to make things better if we can; but we will never agree on exactly what should be done to make things better. Or even what better means. These dilemmas are seemingly part of the human condition.

But it strikes me that amidst focusing on what is wrong these days, it’s worth occasionally stopping to examine the abundance of blessings we share as a nation. Imagine you could randomly pick another human living in the past anywhere on the globe and set up an interview. You describe for him/her the details of your lifestyle in America of 2019. Then you give him the opportunity to trade places with you. All things being equal, what do you suppose would be the answer?

As I type this, I’m sitting in an air-conditioned home, working on a laptop computer that not long ago would have been considered a marvel of technology. In my pocket is another, smaller device, quite affordable, but with more computing power than NASA had to send men to the moon. In a moment I could send a message to one of my relatives living out of state and get a virtually instantaneous reply. We take this sort of thing for granted. We should occasionally ponder them instead.

Chances are this morning you took a shower under abundant hot and clean water, but gave no thought to how amazing it is that such an amenity exists. I don’t know how to test the hypothesis and really don’t want to, but I guarantee we on average smell better than our great-great-grandparents did.

You’re reading a newspaper, or the online equivalent. It means you’re literate and you live in a place that guarantees a free press. Historical rarities! I went to church last Sunday; maybe you did, too. No one tried to stop you; you didn’t glance suspiciously at that person in the next pew wondering if he was an infiltrator who would have you arrested by evening. Or perhaps you have no interest whatsoever in attending religious activities. No one tries to force you to attend services.

If you have kids or grandkids, they’ll probably be in school in a few weeks, maybe grumbling about it but receiving a tremendous opportunity. Yes, there are problems in schools too. But on the whole, widespread education is more blessing than curse, wouldn’t you say?

Also, your kids are probably immunized against diseases that could have killed them two centuries ago.

Next time you’re in the grocery store, instead of griping about the price of cereal, take a second and look at the cereal aisle—the variety, the abundance. Then buy a box and ponder. You now own that box of cereal; there is no entity anywhere which can legally deprive you of it without due process. Ever stop to think how secure you are in the title to your property, whether real estate, an automobile, or just the shirt on your back? That concept is so self-evident to us that we just take it for granted. Maybe we shouldn’t.

I could go on and on. Libraries, widely accessible music, chlorinated swimming pools, eyeglasses and hearing aids, public parks, indoor plumbing, the protection of police and fire departments. Someone probably comes every week and takes away your trash, and you don’t give it a second thought.

Too optimistic? Again, I don’t claim that we should overlook the abundant national problems and crises we experience. Naturally I’m aware that not everyone enjoys all benefits in equal measure. We have a long way to go, and there’s every reason to carry on robust debate over what changes need to be made and the proper way to make them. But in railing against the problems of America, don’t forget to stop and count the blessings as well. There’s plenty wrong with our country. And there’s so, so much that is right.

Long is a historian, writer and educator from Salem.

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