Sep. 27, 2004: Good People Doing Good Things. Another Reason to be Proud of the U.S.

It never fails. Mention some of the wonderful qualities of the United States — something I don’t do enough by the way — and a bunch of “yes, but” whiners pop up like warts on a hog. Say that we are the richest, most powerful nation on earth and “yes, but” contrarians complain that is the very reason countries like the France and Germany don’t like us. They would probably hate us more if we were poor, because we couldn’t send them all the money we do now and they might have to go to work, instead of taking 40 weeks of vacation each year.

Point out that Americans enjoy freedoms unimagined in most countries and “yes, but” rejoinders come sailing in, reminding me that illegal immigrants don’t have the freedoms the rest of us have, an argument I am still trying to comprehend. What part of “illegal” don’t they understand?

One surefire way of irritating the “yes, but” crowd is to mention the virtues of democracy.

Whenever I cite the fact that we all have the right to vote and that the majority rules, I receive a boatload of condescending “yes, but” letters telling me this concept is dangerous because the majority is not always right and is liable to do something dumb, like advocating the overthrow of the government. I am still mulling that argument, too. It looks to me as if a distinct minority is always talking about overthrowing the government. The majority of us view those loony dipsticks as being as relevant as wings on a frog, which shows that the majority can be right every once in awhile, too.

But the “yes, but” crowd will be hard pressed to tsk-tsk about America’s volunteering spirit, which is one of our greatest assets. While they whine about all that is wrong with the nation, almost one in three Americans is volunteering. Yes, the numbers could be higher, but it is way ahead of France and Germany and most of the rest of the world. I thought about that last week when I spoke at a banquet honoring volunteers with Douglas Senior Services in Douglas County, just west of Atlanta. The dinner reminded me that elitist snobs aren’t the ones who define our country; it is the good, salt-of-the-earth people I saw in that room.

As with most volunteer jobs, the work of the Douglas Senior Services volunteers isn’t glamorous or high profile. More than a hundred individuals and couples deliver meals to the homebound every week. To an uninformed outsider, the task sounds repetitious and tedious, yet many have been at the job for years. One volunteer cited at the banquet was James Askew, 87, who has delivered meals to shut-ins four days a week for almost two decades. Mr. Askew makes it clear that the opportunity to help others keeps him feeling young and going strong. I believe him. The man has an energy level that would make the Energizer Bunny suck wind.

What I saw at the dinner in Douglas County is not unlike what I have seen from one end of this state to the other and everywhere in between — self-motivated volunteers doing good work, not because they have to but because they want to. What’s more, by doing so, they are making a positive impact on the lives of others. You can find them serving at hospitals and in schools, working in homeless shelters, counseling battered women, tutoring, building homes, providing transportation, organizing fundraisers, planting flowers, praying with those whose spirits are broken and teaching us to keep our rivers clean. They are young, old, black, white, male and female. As different as they may be, they all have one thing in common: They care.

To the dedicated volunteers and staffers at Douglas Senior Services and to all the rest of you across the state who volunteer your time and your talents to worthy causes, my deepest thanks. You are one more reason that the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth — no ifs, ands or “yes, buts” about it.