“Earned not given.” Sometimes one phrase says it all. We live in an age when “easy” is preferred to “hard,” leisure beats sweat, largess is expected of Government – more COVID and unemployment money, loan forgiveness, anti-inflation checks. That all misses the point.
The truth is my own perception sometimes does too. For many years, recreation included marathons, among them five US Marine Corps Marathons. Each year, that phrase showed up on shirts. “Earned not given” seemed fitting for a marathon shirt. I barely thought more about it.
One day, the phrase caught me again, mind wandering to how Congress behaves, how those in the power act and live, somehow getting rich in public service, cheerfully spending other people’s money as if their own, as if spending defined their job, as if that were hard.
My thoughts wandered to how exceptionally hard Americans work, especially older Americans, how they resist unearned benefits, often unwilling to take what is given unless they feel it was earned – how they are lifted more by love, family, honor, and duty than free things or money.
Crossing my mind was how we are slipping, as a society. Members of Congress do not seem to understand, not even care if caught trading stocks and getting rich on insider information, as both parties have been. The honor and honesty we expect of them, somehow grows faint.
Often, they seem not to care that those they represent work hard but barely make ends meet. They dine high, then shrug and lie, passing bills like the “Inflation Reduction Act” that ramps up inflation, damaging pensions, life savings, college accounts, middleclass earnings. Where is the notion that high office, like that Marine Corps Marathon t-shirt, is “earned not given?”
My mind shifted to the Marines – to all veterans – who live by a code built around honor and merit, conviction and courage, not making excuses. There are no “do overs” in combat, no trophies for second place, little given without work, risk, and loss – all for self-respect.
Every member of Congress, White House staffer, Foreign Service Officer, governor, mayor, puffed-up councilor who glibly cuts police, every school board member who pushes Marxism, racism, “transgenderism” on our young kids, owes veterans beyond measure. Do they ever think on that?
Do they see it? Do they care? Do they understand it is for America that others serve, and that they are there? Expected in a society riven is just one thing, public service be honorable and “earned not given.”
My mind shifted to the quote. Where did it come from? Surely, it was tied to hard work, honor, the idea that anything worth anything is earned. Things given – even accepted with gratitude – are not earned.
The whole idea behind the quote introduced to me at the Marine Corps Marathon sounded all-American, if also timeless. But surprisingly, it did not originate here after all.
More surprising, it first appeared in the 1500’s in writings of a Pakistani King, Hussein Nishad, of whom less is known than conjectured. Still, somewhere in the mists, borrowing from the Golden Rule, he wrote: “Treat people the way you want to be treated, talk to people the way you want to be talked to…respect is earned, not given.”
Fitting for this moment, perhaps also for his. The original was not about hard work or honor, so much as respect, the difference between demanding it – which never works – and earning it, which does.
So much of the political dialogue today is about demanding this or that change, this occur and that become a new norm, this opinion be heard, that one cancelled, this Supreme Court decision respected, that one rejected – all with the unspoken “or else” dangling.
America is not about ultimatums, not about free stuff for votes or otherwise. It is not about demanding things, except perhaps respect for law and for each other. It is not about grousing because we have too little, the government not giving us enough. It is about the chance to earn, at every turn – and that too did not come free. It was – as the t-shirt says – “earned not given.”
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