The Hand That Feeds You

By Jim Whitt

In The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Humphrey Bogart plays the role of Fred C. Dobbs, a down-on-his-luck American in Mexico during the 1920s. Times are so tough that Dobbs is reduced to panhandling for food. In the opening scenes he hits up a well-dressed American played by John Huston, “Say mister, will you stake a fellow American to a meal?” Dobbs doesn’t look at the well-to-do American’s face but instead stares at the peso he plops into his hand.

With his head down Dobbs continues to ask for money on the streets. He encounters Huston again and once again accepts a peso without a word of thanks and without making eye contact. Later that day he again asks Huston for money without any recognition of who he is. This provokes his fellow American, “Such impudence never came my way. Early this afternoon I gave you money… while I was having my shoes polished I gave you MORE money… now you put the bite on me again. Do me a favor, will ya? Go occasionally to somebody else — it’s beginning to get tiresome.”

“Ah, excuse me, mister,” replies a startled Dobbs. “I never knowed it was you. I never looked at your face — I just looked at your hands and the money you gave me.”

I’m afraid this scene is being played out en masse in our country today. We have created a Fred C. Dobbs culture of dependency that’s not restricted to any class of people. We have major corporations that have come to expect their fellow Americans to bail them out. To borrow John Huston’s line, “It’s beginning to get tiresome.”

When I was in Houston last week, I got acquainted with Abiy (pronounced Ah-bee′), who works at the Hilton Americas Hotel. I was really impressed with his attitude. He told me he was originally from Ethiopia but had become a U.S. citizen. He explained that people here may think they are poor but have no idea what real poverty is. “God bless America,” he said. “And I really mean it.” Abiy went on to tell me about how fortunate he felt to be an American citizen and how he and his family have prospered here.

When we say, “God bless America,” do we really mean it?  We would if we saw our country through the eyes of Abiy. He appreciates the opportunities our country affords enough to earn his citizenship. Meanwhile, we native-born Americans seem to take the citizenship we acquired at birth for granted. We increasingly exhibit the attitude of Fred C. Dobbs. We keep asking our fellow Americans to stake us to a meal, never really seeing their faces but only the hand that we expect to continually feed us. We need to remember that we are the face of America and the hand that should be feeding us is our own. If we do, we might discover the same opportunities Abiy found when he came to America.

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