The sense of “every man for himself” goes against the grain of the American spirit


This editorial is the opinion of Morgan Hill Life

Memorial Day is a holiday that encourages all Americans to consider the sacrifice made by men and women who gave their lives in military service to their country. Across the nation, men, women and children gathered May 31 to pay tribute to those who in doing their duty gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.

What if more of us Americans can go beyond these momentary activities and honor the fallen among our citizens by taking part in public service of some kind? What if a greater number of us can better build our communities and bring Americans together during this time of deep polarization by making a much milder sacrifice of giving our time and talents? If we can encourage each other to make the world a little bit better by spending an hour or two once or twice a month volunteering at a nonprofit or assisting the people among us in need, this would be a far greater tribute to those who died than laying a wreath on a grave or saluting a flag during the playing of “Taps.”

We live in a cynical America where far too many of us follow the dangerous philosophy of “what do I get out of it?” The growing sense of “every man for himself” goes against the very grain of the American spirit.

Sixty years ago at his inauguration ceremony, President John F. Kennedy spoke words (written by his trusted friend and speechwriter Ted Sorensen) that distilled the essence of the American spirit of true patriotism: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” he encouraged his fellow Americans. Those words still apply to us in the 21st century.

Last month, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) and other members of Congress introduced the Inspire to Serve Act, H.R. 3000, a bill intending to advance America’s core principles of service to each other.


The legislation would:

  • Promote civic education and public awareness of all forms of service.

  • Advance military, national, and public service through a series of improved personnel practices, structures, grant programs, fellowships, demonstration projects, resource allocations, and benefit programs.

  • Streamline and modernize outdated processes to make service more accessible.

  • Strengthen mobilization for any future public health crisis, natural disaster, or other national emergency.


“Public service allows us to further the ideals of our democracy and experience and grow from our diversity,” Panetta said in a press release. “Unfortunately, many Americans don’t know about or have access to the many ways in which we can give back to our community and country.”

If passed, The Inspire to Serve Act would connect those who desire to give back with the resources of the federal government and help ensure local and national resilience and preparedness. The bill would strengthen the foundation of American society by furthering the opportunities to serve and sustain the health, security, and unity of our country.

Here in the South Valley, we have plenty of opportunities among our diverse and numerous nonprofit organizations to give back to our communities. We should especially encourage young people — starting in the early grades and continuing through their senior year in high school — to seek ways to help improve our region through volunteering their time and energy. If young men and women do this from the heart and not from a calculation to apply for a college and look good in the admissions process, it will help build a genuineness of character that will reward them through their lives.

Going beyond Memorial Day weekend, let us consider the ultimate sacrifice too many men and women have made in military service over the decades so that we can live free in the land of liberty. Let us honor those brave men  and  women by giving up some of our time and energy in activities of public service.

Morgan Hill Life Editorial
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