Monday, January 08, 2007

First things first...

A boss of mine once told me that I ought to spend all of my effort on whatever issue was the most critical to success... and only after taking care of my #1 priority should I even begin to think about doing anything else. His rationale was pretty simple: by definition, my biggest problem/opportunity was more important than anything and everything else on the agenda and any time spent on secondary issues was time taken away from a more important matter.

I was reminded of that when I read of Oprah spending a boatload of money building a school in South Africa.

I know that Oprah earned her money and, as such, has earned the right to spend, save and donate it as she sees fit.

But was there nothing else here at home that was more important? Was helping some girls in South Africa more important than helping a similar number of girls here in the United States? I know Oprah donates a lot of money to causes here at home and I applaud her for that. But she has to know that, for all of her generosity here at home, there are still an awful lot of her fellow Americans who are in dire need of better education, health care and housing.

When somebody, whether it be Oprah, Bill Gates or Sally Struthers, decides to spend their money improving the lives of people living elsewhere, their actions send the clear signal that they believe that people living elsewhere are more deserving of whatever it is that their money can buy than are those who live at home.

To me, the pecking order is pretty straightfoward: family, friends, neighbors, Americans, allies, neutrals, enemies. One ought to take care of one's own family before going off to help elsewhere. In a fire, you don't ignore your family to go save the neighbors down the hallway. And one ought not go to save the world before doing everything possible to help their fellow Americans.

That's part of being an American. We look to each other to help defend our country against threats. We ought to look to buy the goods and services produced by Americans before we go looking to buy from others. We look to extend helping hands to Americans in need before we go trying to improve the lives of those living elsewhere.

Now it's possible that Oprah has some rationale for how her actions really somehow benefit America... in the same way our government rationalizes foreign aid as really helping to advance America's interests. But I doubt it.

As I said, she's earned the right to do with her money as she wants. She can burn it, she can save it, she can spend it on whatever she wants, she can give it away to whomever she chooses.

And I have the right to criticize anyone whose actions put the welfare of others ahead of the welfare of one's fellow Americans. You don't have to help... but if you decide you want to help someone, it ought to be an American that you help.

Americans come first to Americans... at least they ought to.