Does it seem to you that a lot of people in America want to be victims of some sort? Victimhood is fast replacing rugged individualism as the defining characteristic of the American people. Alexis de Tocqueville would cringe at what America has become since he wrote his landmark book in praise of our nation. The America de Tocqueville wrote about in American Democracy was a nation of self-sufficient, can-do people who sought opportunity, took personal responsibility, and refused to make excuses. But that was then and this is now. It seems to me that the America of today is fast becoming a nation of whiners where entitlement is replacing entrepreneurship and victimhood is replacing initiative.
Too many Americans are now finger pointers whose lives are spent blaming others for the bad choices they make themselves. It seems that many people in America not only like to make excuses for failing, they like to blame others for their problems; problems that are often self-inflicted. Unfortunately, the only person not blamed for the problems of whiners is the one person who could actually do something about them; the proverbial man in the mirror. As I hear Americans whining, complaining, and pointing the finger of blame, I sometimes want to shout: “Of course you face difficulties, who doesn’t? Life isn’t fair—never has been, never will be. Get over it!” Whiners in our society need to stop complaining, finger pointing, and making excuses and do something positive to improve their lives and their communities.”
I understand the concept of resentment. We are all susceptible to it, which is why God gave us the Tenth Commandment—he knew our nature. When we see people who are better off materially it is easy to become resentful and to covet what they have. To this day, even though I know better, I find myself resenting those who are born to wealth. Unmerited, unearned prosperity sticks in my craw no matter how hard I try to shake off this counterproductive attitude. People who start at the bottom and build better lives by dint of personal initiative and hard work—the proverbial rags-to-riches types—are the kind of people I admire. And they are the kind of people who made America great. But I learned a long time ago that resenting others won’t help me or anyone else.
For example, some of the most challenging years of my life were during college when I had to work full-time to support myself in addition to paying all of the expenses associated with going to school full-time. While I had to dash to my junk-heap of a car the minute classes let out in hopes of making it to work on time, most of my classmates—whose parents paid their tuition—got to lounge around the student center, playing cards and soaking up the social life. My nights when I wasn’t in classes as well as weekends were spent cramming school work into the few remaining hours in the day. What made things worse was knowing that while I was frantically burning the midnight oil, my better-off classmates could spend these hours pursuing recreational activities, having a social life, or just relaxing (something I don’t remember doing even once in my college years). My resentment of these well-heeled classmates was palpable.
Fortunately a wise professor, sensing my resentment of classmates whose economic circumstances allowed them to attend college without having to work, gave me some good advice. He told me, “You can waste your time and energy resenting others who have it better than you or you can invest your time and energy in making things better for yourself. You have to decide whether you are going to wallow in self-pity and resentment or do what is necessary to improve your life.” Then he said something that was a little much for me to comprehend at the time but that became crystal clear to me in the years following graduation. He said: “This may be hard for you to see right now, but you are actually better off than your classmates who don’t have to work. Your class mates are learning the content of their courses, but that is all. They aren’t learning how to work hard, work smart, or work long. They aren’t learning how to keep going when they feel like quitting or how to juggle multiple responsibilities; all of which have deadlines. You, on the other hand, are learning all of these things and it is these things, more than the content of any college courses you might take that will make you a success after college. After graduation, to you working full-time without simultaneously going to college full-time will feel like being on vacation. But to your classmates working full-time is going to feel like an onerous burden. It’s going to be a challenge they have never faced. I predict you will get to the top of the ladder in your profession before they get off the first rung.” As things turned out, this wise professor was right.
The moral of his story was that rather than give in to resentment and spend your time whining about your problems the better approach is to buckle down and do what is necessary to improve one’s circumstances. Another way to state the same lesson is this: When you find yourself envying or resenting the prosperity of others, the best revenge is to become successful yourself. This is a lesson learned and acted on by countless generations of Americans over the years, but it is a lesson that is getting lost in the modern-day murkiness of entitlement, class envy, and government dependence.
It wasn’t fair that my family was thrown into poverty when my father ran out on us. It wasn’t fair that other children had better clothes, homes, cars, and food. It wasn’t fair that the parents of my college classmates paid their tuition while I had to work to pay mine. But the fact that these things weren’t fair was irrelevant, and whining about the unfairness of them would have changed nothing. If I wanted a better material life it was up to me to do what was necessary to earn one, and that is exactly what I did. This is also the approach hundreds of thousands of rags-to-riches Americans have taken over the course of our nation’s history. This is why I find it so frustrating when people who have complaints—even when their complaints are legitimate—would rather whine about them than do something to make things better.
My all-time favorite Eagles song is titled “Get over it.” The lyrics contain some good advice for Americans who like to whine, complain, and point the finger of blame. Talking about the victimhood mentality of whiners, the song says: “You drag it around like a ball and chain, you wallow in the guilt, you wallow in the pain; You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown, got your mind in the gutter bringin’ everyone down; Complain about the present and blame it on the past, I’d like to find your inner child and kick its little a–.” The chorus for this song is—what else?—“Get over it.”
Some Americans claim they are held back by gender, others by race, others by poverty, others by condition of birth, and others by circumstances in general. The truth is, the various disadvantages that people like to whine about are nothing but excuses, and excuses are just like elbows—everybody has a couple of them. In fact, if a whiner is looking for an excuse, one is pretty much as good as the next. Further, while excuses might make whiners feel better about themselves they do nothing to improve their circumstances. People who make excuses for failing today will be making the same excuses 20 years from now, yet they won’t be any better off than they were two decades ago.
America is still a country in which the possibilities are infinite. The formula for success, regardless of where one starts out on the socio-economic ladder is still the same. If you want to have a better life, work hard, work smart, take education seriously, accept full responsibility for your life, take the initiative, and make no excuses. This is the formula that made a dirt-poor farmer’s son lacking in formal education president of the United States in Abraham Lincoln. It is the same formula that made the poor son of an illiterate single mother from inner-city Detroit the most renowned brain surgeon in the world in Dr. Ben Carson. To the whiners of the world who think they are entitled to a prosperous life, my message is simple: You are entitled to one thing—what you earn for yourself, so stop whining, complaining, and pointing the finger of blame. Instead of whining, start doing what is necessary to make things better. The only one holding you back is the man in the mirror.