Too big for your britches

Published 12:16 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2013

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest Columnist

“Boy, don’t get too big for your britches,” my Nanny would tell me when I thought I had it figured out.

In the next week or so, we will celebrate our nation’s 237th birthday. An experiment like no other that began by conversation and led to a revolution. We had the audacity to “…absolve allegiance to the British Crown…” The move was so bold that one of our founders, Benjamin Franklin, said, “We must hang together, or assuredly we shall hang separately.”

As we grew, another saying stuck to us and is mounted on the Statue of Liberty. Part of that poem reads, “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Notice it doesn’t say unwilling, indolent or uncaring. This country was built, and continues to be built, on hard work and self-governance.

When I was young, my Nanny and I received food stamps that looked like fake money and you could only buy certain things. Everyone in line knew that was government cheese. I remember when she paid, she did so by trying to hide the fake money. She hated that, so she worked two jobs and went to business school to get away from it. I came home from school with a list of chores, and at times she would write on top, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”

Nanny would come home from her second job around 9:30 p.m. and do her schoolwork. I’d fall asleep in the next room while I listened to her learn to type. That strong work ethic makes me question why a young man who I had to chase down lists “unemployed” or “disabled” as his employment status during the arrest report. It makes me question why I can drive down the street in the middle of the day and see young men in the yard drinking beer and playing dice, but we have non-profit groups begging for volunteers to come help pass out clothing or clean up a senior citizen’s yard.

This experiment we call America requires all of us that are able to work, to do so, and be a part of the project. If that part is working the pit changing oil, flipping burgers, cutting grass, preaching at church, or designing the next lunar landing craft, it is part of the project.

That part may be volunteering as a mentor or going to one of our many churches and joining a team where work is done for those that truly need help. Those who participate carry the load of those who don’t. The more that participate, the less of a load we have to carry. The time that I have spent outside my comfort zone in volunteer work has allowed me to grow beyond what I thought I could. Happy Birthday America, but don’t get too big for your britches. Now get to work.

Capt. Chris George is a commander with the Criminal Investigations Division of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He can be reached at