Ronald James Read

I just read a Wikipedia entry about this guy named Ronald Read. It’s rare that a Wikipedia entry inspires me, in fact, I think it’s a first in my life. Just read this opening sentence:

Ronald James Read (October 23, 1921 – June 2, 2014) was an American philanthropist, investor, janitor, and gas station attendant.

That alone carries so much weight. What a powerful statement about what is possible in life.

Here’s the rest, read on: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Read_(philanthropist)

This guy walked or hitch-hiked over 4 miles to attend high school. He served his country. He didn’t go to college, but never stopped learning. He chose his investments by reading the Wall Street Journal every day. He didn’t make excuses about his modest earnings. He made something of his life, a rather big something. He surprised everyone when he donated millions of dollars to his local hospital and library.

Why the story of Ronald Read touched me today likely has something to do with what’s happening around the world nowadays. In particular, I’m having a real hard time relating to the activists in the US. At least the activists in Hong Kong and Thailand are fighting some real big issues.

But “systemic” racism, in America of all places? Coming from Japan where I witnessed significantly more racist attitudes than I ever have in the US, it baffles me to hear Americans who have never lived in a different country complain about racism as if that is what’s preventing people from living a fulfilling life. Especially, I completely and whole-heartedly disagree with those who say that the system here is broken. In all of human history, I know of no other system that has allowed so many people of ordinary upbringing and of all races to make a great life for themselves.

When it comes to racism, this is the least racist country I know of. Sure there are racist people here as there are anywhere else, but how does one seriously claim that this is a systematically racist country? Compared to what other country?

As a teacher, it worries me that the prevailing philosophy of the day is that our system is broken, and only if we fixed it people can live better. If this is what we are teaching our children, they are screwed. A victim mentality will never catapult them to live an honorable life of responsibility.

I have a few words of advice to anyone drawn toward the flavor of activism prevalent in the US today. Before you try to discard the system and reorganize the world, learn a lesson or two from Ronald Read. Stop trying to appear virtuous on your social media feeds, and try actually living a virtuous life. Work hard. Gain new skills. Contribute to the world with your talents. Get to know people of all walks of life, and learn what real issues they are facing. Make something of your life. Be an example to the youth. Improve your community. Then, you might discover that this country is not so bad after all.

Published by

Shin Adachi

I am a pianist and composer based in Los Angeles.