Some Thoughts on Opportunity

I think most of us would agree that this country turned out pretty well. The Founding Fathers did a really good job of getting us started, with a constitution that has been amended only 27 times in over 232 years of its operation. It works about as well in the modern age as in the colonial era.

And those Fathers didn’t have to share the power they did. Anyone who has visited Mount Vernon, Monticello, or Montpelier knows this was the top one percent of the nation’s society. They could have easily keep all the power for themselves.

And yet…

They didn’t get everything right. They punted on slavery, sowing the seeds of a devastating civil war that tore the country apart, albeit temporarily. Then there were economic flaws. Look up “P” in the index of my college-level history book and you will find financial panics in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1884, 1893, and 1907, culminating in the Great Depression of the 1930s. It took the serendipity of a trust-busting Theodore Roosevelt (who was never supposed to have been President) and his willing-to-experiment cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt to get the economy to its full potential. So our founders did well, but they could’ve done a lot better.

My point? In that group of original founders, how many were women? How many minorities were part of the Constitutional Convention? How many Native Americans? None, of course. The country was founded by white men. All white men.

This means well over half of our talent was arbitrarily excluded from our beginning. Over half of the people were not directly represented, which means their thoughts and concerns were never heard. Think of how things might have turned out if all our abilities had been used in those formative days.

Of course, the counterargument is that women and minorities were in no position to contribute; at one time, it was illegal to even teach a slave how to read and write. But that only makes me wonder more — how many Susan B. Anthonys, Frederick Douglasses, and Harriet Tubmans would there have been if everyone in colonial times had had an equal opportunity to develop their skills, and then to contribute?

So today, as we face the current challenges and uncertainties of these times, shouldn’t we make sure we’re utilizing all of our talent? We just can’t afford to keep squandering the abilities we have.

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