- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 1999

Don't get me wrong. I love computers. I remember typewriters before the self-correcting models; you're halfway through the page on some article and, bam, a typo. The Internet is great, even if there are questions about my boy Al's contribution. And e-mail is way cool, although I still find a handwritten, personal letter a precious gift and write my poetry, the old-fashioned way on yellow pads with pen; there is something about the organic interaction that stimulates the emotions and creative juices.
Don't think I have anything against Amazon.com, although most of the time I purchase my books from independent stores like Politics and Prose and Vertigo Books. When pressed, I have logged on to the super online seller, receiving my purchases in record time. Still, this notion of Jeff Bezos as "Person of the Year" slays me. I mean has his company turned a profit yet?
Time magazine's proclamation of Mr. Bezos as Person of the Year sends the wrong message about what's valuable in America. It bolsters the axiom "money talks." It nearly screams. Forget the sum total of an individual's contributions to society; charitable works aimed at improving the lives of those less fortunate. What matters most is the economic impact. Who made the most money; who helped us make money. When there is a choice between cash and caring, cash wins nearly every time.
Walter Mosley, in his latest book, "Workin' On The Chain Gang: Shaking off the Dead Hand of History," captures exquisitely the American dilemma as we close out the 20th century. "Capitalism has no race or nationality. Capitalism has no humanity," he writes. "All that exists in the capitalist bible is the margin of profit, the market share… We are all part of an economic machine. Some of us are cogs, others ghosts, but it is the machine, not race or gender or even nationality, that drives us." We are happily all part of the chain gang, he says. The media help advance our acceptance by promoting people like Mr. Bezos.
Some people will say I'm not recognizing Mr. Bezos' tremendous contribution to society advancing e-commerce and all, which, if reports are true, did rather well this Christmas; but so did traditional retailers whose sales persons do their business face-to-face. Mr. Bezos' fans might point to the guy's humble beginnings and say he is the epitome of the American Dream. Which is exactly my point: The American Dream has been hijacked, made to masquerade as this narcissistic, cash-making thing devoid of grace and charity.
In a year when the country experienced horrendous tragedy the shootings in Columbine, an elderly African-American woman used for sport in North Carolina, homeless people under assault in New York, children still starving in one of the riches countries in the world, and the mass miseducation of millions of others history will record that the folks at Time believed a man selling books via the Internet made the greatest contribution in 1999.
"As long as we cannot think beyond the image created for us by the media and the selective memory of authorized history, we will live in gilded chains," predicts Mr. Mosley.
This mindset makes no politician, no corporate mogul, no media celebrity the person of the year or of the century. People like Bob Thompson deserve our praise. Don't remember him?
The Michigan businessman sold his construction firm for $422 million. Instead of taking the money and running, he shared more than $100 million with employees who had helped build his business, putting in long hours, under less than desirable conditions "It's sharing good times, that's really all it is," he told the Associated Press back in September. "I don't think you can read more into it. I'm a proud person. I wanted to go out a winner and I wanted to go out doing the right thing."
There are people like Mr. Thompson all around us, possessed of some concept of appropriateness the right thing. Poet Khalil Gibran in his book, "The Prophet" notes that "there are those who give little of the much they have and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty."
This toast is to Mr. Thompson and others like him. Their goodwill makes it possible for the light to still shine on all of us. For example, members of the Washington Innerfaith Network, especially the Rev. Lionel Edmonds; Hannah Hawkins who is a shield and warrior for the children of Southeast; Sam Bost in far Northeast Washington; Rick Sowell in near Northeast, Lori Caplan at the Latin American Youth Center, Maria Tukeva at Bell Multicultural High School, and Lori Shpunt at Trinity College who inspire adult women to their highest achievement. May we all be infected with their generosity and marvelous grace.

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