One of the worst things about American society is that we tend to equate wealth with intelligence. Anybody with half a brain can tell you it's not true. I mean look at Paris Hilton. Heck, look at any Hilton since Conrad, the man who built the family's wealth.
Still, deep down in our American DNA, there's this molecule that tells us that rich people are smarter than the rest of us. This evil little piece of DNA tells us that teachers are idiots and don't deserve our respect because they don't make much money. It tells us the same about preachers (honest ones), priests, nurses, firefighters, soldiers, and, yes, cops.
Deep down in the American psyche, we equate the willingness of anyone to sacrifice earning potential for the greater good with stupidity. After all, only a person who has no other options would tolerate the salaries that we pay those who serve.
This is why Sen. John Kerry recently told an audience of California college students that they better get a good education or they'll end up in Iraq. From Kerry's elite Back Bay Boston point of view, only stupid people, only ignorant people want to sacrifice for their country or serve public interest.
Kerry should have known better since he and his father served, but that was long ago, long before he became a member of the elite, and long before the rest of us decided that the only worth of a man is the car that he drives or the house in which he lives.
There was a time in this country when the elite felt a little, if not guilty, then at least self-conscious about its status. The elite went to the finest schools, became captains of industry, but the young men who grew up with these silver spoons were also expected to serve.
Many rich Americans served in our wars. And those who didn't, they understood the terrible cost paid for the freedom and domestic security that helped them build their financial empires because there was likely a portrait of family members who had given the last full measure on some foreign field on the walls of their palatial homes.
But that all started to change around the time of Vietnam. Don't get me wrong, some of the elite served in that war (as some very few do now), but not enough. And that's when the public came to believe that only the dumb and the poor served. Sadly, that attitude prevails today.
And it permeates our society from the top down. Everyone has come to believe that only the stupid are willing to sacrifice themselves for the public good, whether it be in a convoy in Anbar province or a gunbattle with gang members on the streets of Atlanta. After all, don't you have to be stupid to be willing to put yourself in harm's way for the pittance we pay our protectors?
Thanks to the hard work of my parents, I have a pretty solid education. And one of the most important things I gained through my many years of academic endeavor was how to recognize intelligence. I mean true intelligence, not just the ability to master a single academic subject or to test well, but real intelligence.
And I can say without a doubt that I have met really intelligent people at all levels of the socio-economic ladder. But some of the smartest people I know sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They are brilliant soldiers and cops. Yet, society thinks they're stupid because they live on meager earnings.
We Americans have forgotten one of the greatest lessons of the greatest teacher who ever lived. In John 15:13, Jesus tells us that no man has greater love than one who would lay down his life for another.
You're not stupid to serve and protect. You're showing the greatest love that anyone can show. And if the people you serve can't see that, then they are truly ignorant.