Last weekend I attended a local Christmas concert where a teenage girl played "What Child Is This?" her fingers gliding elegantly and meticulously over the strings of a harp creating notes sweet and pure; and a 9-year-old boy sang a sophisticated solo, "Here With Us," his voice polished and projected confidently throughout the spacious church.
The performers' faces were serene and secure, a seeming internal fulfillment of their talents. These young artists have practiced for years and the resulting concert was a magnificent elevation of the human spirit.
The experience made me think how far our public policy debates have strayed from and often damaged the very chords in the human heart that cause achievement and greatness.
Instead of inspiring young people to use their gifts, for example, the California Federation of Teachers has produced a new video that promotes envying the gifts of others.
The video exemplifies a certain ugliness descending on the country as our political leadership whips up resentment against this nation's achievers, something contrary to the American spirit.
"Tax the rich: an animated tale," narrated by actor Ed Asner, mimics the Occupy Wall Street movement, which pits the "99 percent" against the wealthiest "1 percent." One scene showed a fat, rich man urinating on poor people, but was later edited out. The eight-minute piece, on CFT's website, abounds with inflammatory images and false allegations, portraying the rich as suppressing votes, crashing the economy and then blaming others, including teachers, for causing a recession.
"Now the people got mad," it states, showing a group of men and women with angry, scrunched-up faces, pumping clenched fists up toward the sky while Asner's voice rises to a fever pitch, in a scene not unlike the angry outbursts of union protesters earlier this week over right-to-work legislation in Michigan.
The "wealthy" must pay their "fair share" of taxes, the video demands, even though the top 1 percent of earners in our state already pays 40 percent of state income taxes, and with the passage of Proposition 30, co-sponsored by the CFT, will now pay the highest state income tax rate in the nation.
But Asner revs it up even more, sneering, "The rich people love their money more than anything else in the world."
Oh, really? Does he mean Henry Ford, who not only produced a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of employees at his automotive company, but contributed to preservation of historic buildings, education and community health?
Or E.B. Crocker, the Sacramento banker and landowner who gave us the Crocker Art Museum, one of the premier arts institutions in California? Or railroad magnate Leland Stanford, who donated much of his wealth to found Stanford University?
Or perhaps Asner is referring to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who has reportedly given nearly half his multibillion-dollar net worth to charities, including efforts to eradicate infectious diseases in developing countries.
Do the evil rich include the creators of Facebook, whose capital gains taxes are expected to fill state coffers with more than $1 billion in new revenues based on the company's initial public offering earlier this year?
Do they include the more than 600,000 small-business owners in California who employ more than 5 million people, or the 2.8 million self-employed entrepreneurs who often pay among the state's highest tax rates?
The irony is that the video bashes the very people who are doing the most to fund schools and other services in California.
Yet, the moral high ground is being claimed by those who lie in wait to snatch up every next dollar earned by anyone who works hard in this state. Isn't the core message of this video that its creators are possessed by some of the very greed that they project onto others?
No one ever achieved anything in life by envying others. Instead of stirring up jealousy and claiming that education is all about money, shouldn't those representing teachers inspire children to cultivate character the self-discipline, dedication and hard work it takes to develop their own gifts and talents for the betterment of the human condition?
Maybe this Christmas season is a good time to thank those who work, strive and achieve; and to teach our children to emulate, not resent, them.