When my family left Germany in 1949 for a hopefully better, safer and more
balanced existence in Canada, we were welcomed here and allowed to build
a new life. There were no hand-outs, no government support, no welfare
programs. It was strictly sink-or-swim. In all the years until
my parents died I never heard a word of complaint. Never. Like
other immigrants of that time, they worked hard, sacrificed, scrimped, saved,
then ultimately prospered. That’s the way things worked. Immigrants
were grateful and appreciative for the welcome they received. There
was no whining.
I am a Canadian Citizen and am proud to be so. Your Oma and Opa applied
for citizenship in 1957, when I was twelve years old and I was included as
part of the package. I’ve never regretted being Canadian. Mostly,
I like Canada. Certainly, the socio-economic and political climate
in Canada gives us all a level of safety and potential that is unparalleled
anywhere in the world, with the possible exception of the United States of
But, things are changing. Things are already radically different from
the way they were a few short decades ago. I am a man who normally
celebrates differences and change in general, but not in this case.
What I am getting at, son, is that we are increasingly becoming a nation
of whiners. And we’re not alone. The better the quality of life in
the more prosperous countries, the more people have materially, the more
potential for success there is, the more whining there is. As Gilda
Radner (a comedienne who actually did have real things to complain about)
often said: “It’s always something.” And that is the way that things
seem to be. If we don’t have anything real to complain about, we’ll
Let’s take a closer
look at what we have. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in
the world. Anyone can accomplish anything they wish. While no-one
can be guaranteed a position in an NHL team, they are still free to play
hockey and to compete for the best placements based on their skills.
They are also free to fail in their quest and to become bankers or garbage
With lots of hard work and dedication,
anyone can strive towards any ultimate career goal and have a reasonable
chance to achieve that goal. Or, they can fail in their efforts.
Perhaps they will not have worked or studied hard enough. Perhaps they
are simply not up to the task. Whatever the situation, implicit in
the right to succeed is the right to fail. The world is filled with
people who failed at one vocation and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams
in another. There are no guarantees in life. If you fail, pick
yourself up, dust yourself off, implement plan “B.”
There is this notion,
in too many of us, that we have a ‘right’ to certain things. Free health
care, free day care, free prescriptions, free education, free just-about-everything.
But these things are not and cannot be free. Someone, somewhere, pays
Pay attention, son. There is something that I want you to remember
for the rest of your life. It is the acronym TANSTAAFL.
There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
Robert A. Heinlein, the great science fiction writer, coined the expression
in his book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” One of the characters in
the book pointed out that the “free” bar snacks he and a friend were enjoying
were not really free. They were paid for by higher prices for drinks.
Life is like that. Everything positive has a value. Everything
negative has a cost. Everything you get for “free” or at subsidized cost
from the government is paid for by taxes. And those taxes come from,
you guessed it, everyone who works hard, saves, invests, takes risks, makes
The same logic applies to intangibles as well. Good manners, considerate
behaviour, honesty, diligence, all have a value. Boorishness, inconsiderateness,
dishonesty, sloth, all have a cost. Do an honest day’s work and you
will be rewarded with better jobs. Goof off and you will be fired.
So, if anyone can accomplish virtually anything, why all the whining?
I have known people, over the years that I have been in business, who spent
so much time and energy complaining about how unfair things are, and how
difficult things are, that they had no time for anything else. Had
they spent the same time and energy actually doing something useful, something
constructive, they would have been much better off. And the rest of
us would have benefited too.
The problem, as I see it, is that there is a need in many people to pull
everything and everyone down to the lowest common denominator. Don’t
like the dichotomy of rich and poor? Instead of working hard to become
successful financially, let’s simply take as much as possible away from the
rich. Don’t like the fact that some people are smarter than others?
Do away with tests and comparative marking systems. Upset because some
of us have better jobs than others? Blame it on racial discrimination
The world is not a perfect place. North America is not a perfect continent.
Canada is not a perfect country. I’m not a perfect dad.
You, Zachary, are not always a perfect son.
We all need to strive to make things as perfect as possible. That seems
reasonable, doesn’t it? But why does it mean that we have to change
everyone and everything else? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to start
with ourselves? Our behaviours, our perceptions, our ethics, are something
that we can actually do something about. We don’t need to pass more
laws, create more bureaucracies, build more jails. Do we want the world to
be a better place? Let's behave responsibly. Let's be a good
example to our children. Let's work hard, be honest, stop complaining.
Now, imagine a world where everyone else has followed the same path.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world to live in?
I think so. OK. I’ll start. Your mom tells me that I’m
too impatient. I guess that’s a good place to start. We won’t
discuss any of my myriad other faults here, where anyone can read about them,
but I’ll try to do better in every way I can.
Now, if only we could start a trend.
One, two, three, go!
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