Privileges Come With Responsibilities

Many know I’m on vacation with my fiancée Dita Shemke on her sabbatical to Italy. We arrived Monday at the small town of Cortona in Tuscany where she’ll be “living” for the next two months (I’m here for two weeks and returning home, then going back for the last two weeks of June) staying in her own apartment with an incredible view. Cortona is a small town (23,000 in the surrounding area) perched on a hill looking out at Lake Trasimeno and the surrounding Tuscan countryside. The town was made famous by the 2003 movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” starring Diane Lane, though that was a negative rather than a reason for Dita to choose the town for her sabbatical.

So we are nearly over our jet lag, though we’ve been sleeping in until way too late to disclose here. We’ve been walking the narrow streets, window shopping, and eating at the numerous “osterias” that can be found on nearly every street. The town seems to attract visitors from around Europe and the US, many of whom keep vacation homes in the area. But because the town is some 70 miles south of Florence, it does not seem to get the masses of tourists that better know Italian cities attract. It is a charming town well suited to the world’s “upper crust”.

And this brings me to my thought for today: the privileges and responsibilities that Americans have, especially we “well to do” Americans, whether we are aware of them or not.

I always take a book with me to read on vacation (seems only time I’ll take the time to lose myself in one), and for this trip I took along Ray Dalio’s “The Changing World Order” that Dita gave me a year ago and I’ve not yet made the effort to read. Dalio is a hedge fund principal who (as he explains ad naseum) studies the history of great societies over hundreds of years to learn as much as he can about the rise and fall of empires and the reasons for them. He applies these findings to his firm’s global investment strategies and graces the rest of us with his lessons.

I won’t bore you with too much of his findings, but he makes solid points about the world’s leading powers over time and how they each control much of how the world works including language, business, and finances. Since WWII, the US has obviously been the world’s leading power, and the English language and the dollar dominate world culture, business, and finance. He further makes the point that, for good reasons, each power does not lead forever due to the natural human traits and the US may be at the beginning of the end of its reign as the world’s leader.

Which brings me back to our trip. Though we have only been gone a couple of days, it is obvious to me that we Americans enjoy so many privileges. Though Dita intends to learn passable Italian during her stay, I can speak English just about anywhere in Italy (and other European countries) during my vacation and so not starve in its wonderful restaurants nor be inconvenienced when renting a car, hotel or apartment. Americans are generally most welcomed in Europe (and I assume other parts of the world with which I’m not experienced) as are their dollars. At home, we can purchase whatever we want from vendors around the world while living securely without worry that we’ll be invaded by a hostile power or otherwise be subjected (unless we so choose) to the whims and preferences of foreign cultures.

But in our daily lives at home, we most often are not even aware of these privileges. We lead comfortable lives and when we get a bit bored, we jet off to experience new things in foreign lands – all with simplicity and ease. We are indeed privileged to be Americans.

But what about American responsibilities? After all, are privileges inherent or permanent? They may seem so in our relatively short life spans that don’t often overlap major world power changes that shift many of these privileges to another society. To keep them, great societies must responsibly lead the world. This means nurturing and maintaining a vibrant, growing economy along with a sound currency. It means protecting the ways of life and commerce around the globe that enable this economic growth and peaceful existence. It means educating the next generation to continue this responsible leadership and growth. And it means that we take care and wise steps to help everyone enjoy the privileges of being a part of this society.

Without care for these responsibilities, our great privileges can easily slip away to other societies who value them more and who will exercise greater efforts toward these responsibilities

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