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:

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 used safety-pins to hold together his old pants and kept wearing them. 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 speak of racism as if that is what’s preventing people from living a fulfilling life. Particularly despicable are those who resort to violence in their protest against racism, destroying properties of many who did no wrong.

If you are living in the United States of America in 2020 and somehow think that you are “oppressed” because of your skin color, that is delusion of the highest order. In fact, you are living in the best time and in the best place to have ever existed in the history of our species. You have basically won the cosmic lottery. Any sane person who has done the research on some basic facts would whole-heartedly disagree with your claim that the system here is broken. No other system in history has ever allowed so many people of ordinary upbringing and of all races to make such great lives for themselves.

When it comes to racism, America in 2020 is the least racist country to ever exist on the face of our planet. 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. 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 labor and 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. Then you’ll discover the wonderful society we are all so lucky to inhabit. You might even find the meaning of life.

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Shin Adachi

I am a pianist and composer based in Los Angeles.