With apologies to author Robert Fulgham, I couldn’t help but recall his enormously successful book as I’ve listened to the heating debate about immigration among Republican presidential candidates. Insofar as every one of those leaders is a product of immigration to this country, I thought it might be of some value to recall at least some of the admonitions for wisdom that Fulgham offered in his classic book.
Share Everything- We’re taught at an early age that it’s important to ensure everyone has enough: toys, cookies, rewards, being loved and respected. By and large, we haven’t done very well with this as adults, especially with basic life necessities. We’ve heard many times how something like 80 individuals in the world own as many resources as half (or more) of the rest of the people on the planet. That’s not a very convincing example of sharing, particularly when so many of the have-not’s are living day-to-day in sub-human conditions. History and reality both suggest that a primary motivation for many immigrants is the need to improve their economic status. Most don’t wish to leave their homeland for another spot in the world; they simply must go to where the opportunity is. Sometimes it’s good to give up our place in the lunch line for somebody else.
Play Fair- A corollary to the above, playing fair suggests that in a competitive world where people should expect to be rewarded according to their efforts, a rigged game signals to the players that there are no rules anymore, that everyone is subject only to what he/she can gain for him/herself and that creative sidestepping of the rules is not only permissible but oftentimes heavily rewarded. If CEOs and investment bankers and even nations are immune from penalty for violating rules, the signal is clear for someone considering a cross of the nation’s border. What is there to lose? If the teacher is a cheater, the lesson to be learned is that fairness is for fools.
Don’t Hit People- Especially not with clubs or tasers or fists or bullets. Regardless of where any candidate might stand on the immigration issue, the matter resides at a level of importance somewhere far below the sanctity of human life. As complex and persistent as the immigration problem has become, its solutions won’t be found in the box of punitive punishment. Not even death itself has proven to be a deterrent for the desperate. Hitting just hurts, and not only the victims.
Clean Up Your Own Mess- A push in kindergarten is almost always preceded by an instigating act by someone else, whether seen or not. The push is merely the response that happens to be observed. Illegal immigration is most often motivated by untenable economic circumstances. And those circumstances have been magnified by treaties, agreements and accords that favored our country and its own economic interests in exaggerated ways. As a result, the option of remaining in Mexico or Nicaragua or Honduras evaporates in the wake of the social and economic consequences of messy agreements. Our political candidates claim that illegal immigrants cross the U.S. borders knowing what the consequences are likely to be. But those same candidates must also recognize the likely consequences of economic repression, one of which is desperation-fueled immigration. It’s easier to serve as a model for international behavior if our own cubbyhole is clean.
Don’t Take Things That Aren’t Yours- For every crayon pilfered in kindergarten, there are at least an equal number of excuses for the theft offered up by the filching felon: “it’s my turn, he doesn’t need it, she’s had it long enough,” or “I need it to finish my own work.” While any of them may be true, none excuse the behavior. It’s no different in the competition for resources across the globe. Whether oil, agriculture resources, water, geographic access or any other motive, taking what belongs to someone else is wrong, even when we’re the ones doing the taking.
Keep Your Hands (and arms) to Yourself- If economic desperation is one of the prime motivations for immigration, then flight from the ravages of war is the other. When physical danger from bombs and gunfire threatens life, then there is nothing to lose in trying to flee to a safer zone, even when such flight violates law. Too often, the manufacturer’s label on those ammunitions contains the words “Made in U.S.A.” Even when our nation is not engaged in confrontation with one of our national neighbors, our fingerprints are curiously omnipresent in the horrors of many homelands.
Say You’re Sorry When You Hurt Somebody- Apology and forgiveness. They are the cornerstones of any relationship, because we live in an imperfect world with fellow humans who are as imperfect as we ourselves. No individual, no nation, is without fault. But the offering of forgiveness is a response to apology; it works best when the apology comes first. The immigration conundrum might be less divisive, less of a political “cause celebre” and even less complex when our nation acknowledges a system that is misleading and unfair to all the kids on the playground.
Well, Fulgham’s treatise on living life well has been panned by many as being too simplistic for the sophisticated and complicated world of today. It might be too simpleminded for immigration analysis, as well. Perhaps. But it also offers an alternative to the process in which we find ourselves today, where political rhetoric includes demonizing an entire ethnic class, building higher walls between nations, and minimizing the desperate realities of other human beings. Maybe there’s one more Fulgham idea worth contemplating: hold hands and stick together….