I have been both privileged and humbled to see a cross section of America. In the past few years, speaking invitations have taken me across the country, into a residential facility for juvenile girls, to a funeral director's convention, a fish fry for cattle breeders, the U.S. Capitol building and an all-male college.
I am proud to be an American, and I'd like to tell you why:
If I am with women of means who have fur coats and travel to France and Spain, they often assume that I, too, have a fur coat (it must be in storage) and have been to the Arc de Triomphe and Barcelona. I have a wool coat and have been to Canada.
If I am with a group of farmers, they may assume that I am well versed on the ins and outs of no-till farming, cattle futures and the hog markets.
If I am at a city mission, women will talk as though I am experienced with the hassles of bureaucratic red tape and as though I know you can almost always find a job in the housekeeping departments of downtown hotels.
We tend to assume that others are much like ourselves. And even when we find out they are not, we most often welcome them into our circle. For the most part, we are accepting people.
We are not only accepting, we are generous. More than half of the groups I speak to are raising money for cancer research, heart disease, Alzheimer's, crisis pregnancy centers, symphonies, the arts, neglected children and college scholarships.
After Hurricane Katrina, I addressed a retiree luncheon where men and women on fixed incomes hoped to collect enough money to buy a portable water filtration system for storm victims. They collected enough money to purchase four.
We are accepting, we are generous and we are determined.
I've seen the parents of children with special needs form groups, network and raise money as they thrust themselves head-first into their children's world, gathering information, trading names of specialists, fearlessly tracking research and medical advances.
At a lecture series in Dallas, a murmur rippled through the room as a woman took a seat at a table. One lady began to softly clap and then another and another. It was their tribute to a woman battling breast cancer for the second time.
Strip away the clothes, the cars and the accents, and we are very much the same - human beings made in the image of G-d.
We share the same hurts and sorrows - death and disease, the fallout of divorce, wayward children. We hold tight to the same hopes and dreams - freedom, liberty, independence, strong families, a desire to see our children succeed, to love and be loved.
There is a vast difference between the way popular culture portrays us and the way we really are.
We have our problems - problems that are fodder for election-year campaigns and cable new channels but we're not nearly as bad as you might think.