Visiting Indonesia on the other side of the world makes you want to change some attitudes in the United States. Seeing all the poverty, not being able to drink the tap water, and feeling burning sensations in you lungs from the pollution makes you appreciate our way of life. America is a land of compassion, but perhaps we treat our citizens like a parent who will not let their children grow up and face reality.
Everybody in Indonesia does business or they die. When you stop at a red light a person with no legs may be hobbling to your car to sell you a trinket. A child will be selling snacks to provide for their family. You see a toy appear in your window for sale by someone doing business instead of begging. They actually sell you something instead of just asking for a handout. When you back up your car in the street, someone stops traffic for you and you hand them a few coins. They claimed their job on that street.
After living in America all my life this concept of what appears to be zero unemployment baffled me. In the U.S. government assistance is available in many forms. If you are disabled or poor there are programs to give you money. Many people brag about how much they earn by panhandling. There is no real incentive to work. However, in the third world country of Indonesia even the beggars must open a one person retail business on the street to survive.
A barbeque business owner in America recently told me they were barely surviving. They were selling sandwiches in the evenings and weekends from a stand in front of their home. The health department shut them down at home because of regulations and red tape. After moving to a cheap commercial location the rent and restrictions were too much and they said it might be easier to just live on welfare and food stamps.
In Indonesia almost every home is doing business. Bottles of water are for sale on the front porch. Fruit picked from the backyard trees are masterfully displayed in baskets. Picnic tables under trees or under makeshift roofs become restaurants. The sight of a young shirtless, barefoot guy smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer on one front porch restaurant sticks in my head. In America he would be arrested for blowing smoke on a sign saying no shirt, no shoes, no service.
It is good that we have regulations in America. Being a compassionate nation has put us on a standard above much of the rest of the world. Our culture is the envy of many nations. Perhaps it is alright that we have made it possible for some citizens to mooch off of everyone else. Then again, maybe we should look at other cultures and learn from them. It may be time to reflect on former president Kennedy’s famous quote “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
The United States is the greatest nation on earth. It is my home and I am proud to be an American. Yet, for this country to survive as a prosperous nation we must give all of our citizens incentive to make a positive contribution to society. When I saw the man in Indonesia without legs smile and sell me a trinket like a happy clerk at a fancy retail store it made an impact on me. Perhaps if we let our elected officials know there needs to be a change of attitude and accountability for our citizens it would make a difference. Also, we need to do that while we still have a great country and before it is too late.