My work has occasionally taken me to some pretty poor areas of the world. One of the things I’ve noticed in third-world countries like Ghana and Nicaragua is that no matter how poor the people, they seem to be nicer, happier and more generous — on average — than most Americans I’ve encountered.
Granted, I’ve met plenty of wonderful and generous Americans, too — both rich and poor. On average, though, they just seem more bitter, angry and frustrated. Maybe they have their reasons. I certainly get bitter every time I pay my health insurance, knowing that they’re going to come up with every excuse in the world to come between me and decent health care. But, hey, that’s our America. You just have to learn to deal with it.
I’ve also noticed in these third-world places a problem that is persistent — a problem that Americans should not have. Especially once you get out of the cities and into the villages and communities, you see a lot of trash.
It’s not that these folks are dirty. They take pride in dressing well. I’ve seen smiling women sweeping the dirt floors of their shacks, trying to keep it as decent as possible. However, these places just don’t have the mechanisms to get rid of their trash the way we do here in America. The garbage truck doesn’t come by on Wednesday. Or any day.
Trash is strewn along roadways and sidewalks. Piles of it are burned, creating a pungent smell that hangs over these communities. Goats and dogs sort through piles for a treat.
In America, though, we have plenty of mechanisms in place to help us get rid of — or at least transfer out of sight — the way-too-much trash we generate. If Americans are good at one thing, it’s generating trash. We put the rest of the world to shame in that category.
However, I’ve noticed a troubling trend in recent years. Americans are getting trashier. I don’t mean like Kardashian kind of trash. I mean throwing your McDonald’s cup and Quarter Pounder wrapper on the side of the road kind of trash. I mean tossing beer cans into the creek kind of trash. I mean believing every cigarette you finish smoking belongs on the sidewalk, on the beach and anywhere someone else besides you will have to see it.
I wonder if these are the same people who believe humans can’t harm the planet’s climate. If mass production and fossil fuels don’t cause any harm, then certainly a plastic cup here and a cigarette butt there can’t be a big deal, right?
When I was a young boy in the 1970s, there was a PSA that often ran on television, and if you are over the age of 40, you probably remember it well. It was Iron Eyes Cody, who portrayed a Native American who would look upon all the trash strewn about our land and shed a lone tear for what all those European and other illegal immigrants had done to his land. I suspect his forefathers had warned that they all needed a big, beautiful wall to keep those trashy folks out. Maybe Mexico could have paid for it back then when walls were cheaper.
Actually, Iron Eyes Cody wasn’t even Native American. He was Italian-American, although he claimed Native American heritage in pursuit of a very successful career in Hollywood. If he were still alive today, I’m sure our president would deride him as “Geronimo” and call him a loser for crying over a fake environmental problem.
He lived a long life, dying in 1999 at the age of 94 from mesothelioma — another man-made disaster. If he’s looking down on us now, he’s probably crying once again. I think those commercials shook us up and made us do right for a while. We need them again.
After all, Iron Eyes Cody’s final acting role was in “Ernest Goes to Camp.” The man has suffered enough.
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