America is called the “land of opportunity.” This week the way opportunity in America has evolved will be on display for all to see. Millions of Americans will inconvenience themselves for the opportunity to rush into stores at ungodly hours and, with plastic cards, purchase plastic stuff, which in a year’s time they will consign to plastic bins that they hide in closets and garages packed tight with purchases from years gone by. That the holiday shopping rush is a uniquely American opportunity is manifest in this: average Americans are able to continue this cycle of consumption by buying things of little lasting worth without actually paying for those things with real wealth. There is no other country on earth that offers such a bargain to its citizens. No wonder there is such frenzy on Black Friday!
American opportunity has not always been so selfish and worthless. Sure, there have always been selfish Americans who pursue worthless aims. Yet, the opportunity America presented to average people, including immigrants (for which I am personally thankful), was the chance to create things of lasting value. Farms. Products and services. Communities. How many of us can pursue such tangible opportunities anymore? Everyone of us has had the chance to buy something we do not need on sale in the last week. How many of us have had the opportunity to create something of lasting value in the last year?
I liked what Andrew Delbanco said about American opportunity in his book, The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. “To be really American has always meant to see something beyond America. This is what the Puritans meant in insisting that if we fail to contribute to some good beyond ourselves, we condemn ourselves to the hell of loneliness. It is what Lincoln meant when he insisted that the rights of each person depend on the rights of all persons.”
That attitude about American opportunity will not be waiting in line at Walmart late on Thanksgiving evening. It will not be queued up at Best Buy early on the morning of Black Friday. But it is out there. Just not at stores where sales and selfishness reign supreme.
America still presents its people with a better opportunity than the chance to rush into stores to acquire more debt and debris. It is still the land of opportunity to create a better life, not just for ourselves, but for others. In my gloomier times, I wonder if enough of us still want to make the effort to pursue that kind of opportunity. Gloomier still is the inevitable conclusion that if enough of us are not willing to be creative instead of consumptive, we will lose the opportunity to make the world a better place. Opportunity is not a right. It is our responsibility to uphold. Let us be thankful for that privilege.