February 22nd, 2011

One of the scariest parts of this financial crisis, for me, has been thinking of the individuals who, if not made it happen, at least allowed it to happen. Lenders who targeted low-income families, bankers who took risks with abstract interests that were the livelihoods of real people, and all of them thinking only of their own profits. Is this what became of the American dream? Pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps at whatever cost, assuming that only a select few will get the privilege of wealth and that it’s each man’s responsibility to either win or lose that race.

It feels good, then, to talk to our bellman, Luis. With the whole world open for him to choose from, and parents encouraging him to find what he needed, he decided to train to be a corrections officer. Having visited prisons since his schooling began, he agrees that he’s heading into a rough life, but his experience has led him to believe that the insides of those institutions need more compassion and that he’s capable of doing the job, so he signed up to learn how. It’s not just that it’s not the most financially rewarding job that makes that such an admirable choice, it’s that he has decided to live, everyday, in a place of emotional stress, because he did some research, then looked at himself, and decided that this was needed and that he could handle it. If more of us Americans exercised our much-touted freedom like Luis, maybe the world wouldn’t be such a big mess today.

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