Saturday, August 27, 2005

Do Unto Others: Common Sense in Action

It is often said that “variety is the spice of life”, and that phrase is particularly pertinent within the context of the United States. Perhaps one of the best examples, and worst descriptions, of the relevance is the concept of the United States as “The Great American Melting Pot”. The combination of cultures, values, and politics brought together under the concept of a representative government designed to recognize the common humanity of all people and to support the unalienable rights and freedoms of the citizens is less a uniform melting pot than a rough mix of flavors and colors, dazzling in the variety of patterns, textures and tastes that one might find on an international buffet table.

The common threads -- the ties that bind us together as a nation and as families -- center around our rights and freedoms, our capacity for participation in our governing, and our desire to make a better world for ourselves and our posterity. It is, therefore, easy to recognize that this common thread not only ties us together in the here and now, but also extends from the generations past and onward into the future of generations to come.

Our forefathers did not found this nation nor craft the Constitution and Bill of Rights in order to satisfy their current needs alone. They had an eye toward the future, keeping in mind the history that led them to the founding of this nation while they planned for its continuation and future governance and growth.

We the People must keep this in mind. We are a nation of many people and many cultures, with diverse religions, philosophies, and beliefs -- something to be proud of. We are also a nation of many generations. Regardless of our cultural background or beliefs, there are elders and babies, middle-aged citizens and youthful adolescents populating our country across a broad spectrum. Our nation caters not to any particular religion, philosophy, or culture. Neither should it cater to any one age group without regard for the impact upon the others.

Our elders are our link to history, to the founding of this nation and the forces that have changed it over time, resulting in the country we have now. They played an important role in passing the torch of liberty on to us, whether as statesmen or simply parents or teachers. Our children are our link to the future; the generations to come that will inherit all that we, and those who have come before us, have built.

Our responsibilities as True Patriots are threefold. They include not only managing the current affairs of the nation, but also recognizing and rewarding the elder generation's contributions as well as accepting the responsibility for guiding the next generations to become guardians of our nation's future freedoms.

A True US Patriot recognizes the contributions of the older generation and values the potential of the next, and that in order to promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves, our elders, and our Posterity, we must ensure that the basic rights of those we hold dear to access quality healthcare and education is steadfastly supported, uncompromisingly and without discrimination based on race, color, creed, gender, or orientation.

Current policies regarding education, childcare, welfare, health care and Social Security fail to meet the desired goals of ensuring the safety and well being of our elders and our children.

Brown v Board of Education stressed the importance of equal access to education by demonstrating that "separate but equal" schools placed minority students at a distinct disadvantage when it came to employment and educational opportunities later in life. Unfortunately, despite laws that prohibit "separate but equal" schools, they are far more common than anyone wants to admit. The only difference is that the disadvantaged students are no longer just minorities. They now include the children of America's poor and lower middle class, as well as the children of America's rural and inner city residents. These schools struggle year after year for funding and many are forced to either cut programs or downsize staff, increasing the disadvantage that graduates of these facilities will face when competing for jobs later in their lives.

Likewise, these same children -- as well as their families -- are at increased risk for illness since many of their parents cannot afford health care. Many rural and inner city areas have difficulty attracting and retaining qualified doctors and/or lack medical facilities to deal with serious illness or injury. Here, families often end up on a constantly downward spiral of financial ruin; in many aspects, it's like trying to figure out which came first: the chicken or the egg. Inadequate education is one of the major barriers to getting a good job with a decent wage. This, in turn, prevents them from living in areas of economic growth that offer better opportunities for education and health care. The poorer living conditions for these families invariably result in less educational opportunities, and the children often receive inadequate and under-funded educations. Thus the cycle continues.

Alternately, for someone who gets a job but cannot afford health care -- or in the case of working parents, has to spend all or most of their earnings paying for child care -- the situation is equally grim. If the primary breadwinner gets sick but cannot go to the doctor, s/he may end up missing work where every hour of pay makes a difference, or even losing her/his job, placing an even greater financial stress on the family. This also often makes it far less likely that s/he can get a job that pays as well or better the next time.

Many who find themselves in these situations end up going on welfare, which is like stepping into a pit of quicksand. Once in the system, the income restrictions placed on earnings in order to guarantee health care and food stamps for the children often force the parent -- especially in a single parent household -- to choose between remaining on welfare (and in poverty) or risking the health and well-being of the entire family by taking a job that may pay more but offers no benefits. In order to maintain welfare benefits, a person must keep a job but cannot work full time. This “feature” of the system provides a cheap and easily exploitable labor force for many companies that hire mostly part time employees. Often, companies are not required to offer health benefits to part-timers, so the cost and overhead of employing part-time workers is very attractive. Businesses scale back their need for costly full-time workers, and the effect of this pattern on the economic environment is both profound and far-reaching. A recent survey of a hospital in North Carolina, for example, found that 31% of the patients were employees of Wal-Mart. ("The World is Flat", Thomas Friedman, referenced in the Pensacola News Journal)

The elderly populations face similar problems, since many of them depend solely on their Social Security to provide them with income in what should be their "golden years". Far too many of our senior citizens have to choose between basic utilities, important medication, or enough food to live. The adult children of the elderly often have to either quit working to take care of their elderly family members, or put them in nursing homes that often cost upwards of $5000 a month. Since most families cannot afford this, the elderly are forced to sell everything they own and be declared indigent to receive state assistance.

These issues do not confine themselves to our elderly and our youth. Similar problems also affect our population due to disparities of wealth. Throughout our nation's history, from its very founding to the present day, there has been an oft-ignored struggle taking place between the haves and the have-nots. The issue was first addressed in earnest starting around the time of the Civil War when a concerted national effort was begun to include all people under the mantle of protection of the US Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation declared that slavery was no longer an acceptable policy in this nation, granting African Americans their freedom (at least on paper). The women's suffrage movement and the civil rights movement -- which started as grassroots efforts of citizens around the nation -- forced Congress to introduce legislation that recognized the inherent rights of women and African Americans. However, it is not enough to give lip service to equality for all citizens. Since it was first proposed 82 years ago, the ERA has yet to be ratified, and in today’s world of female space shuttle commanders, most women in the workplace earn considerably less salary than their male counterparts doing the same work.

Other movements, like the gay rights movement that began at Stonewall and the Alliance for Native American Indian Rights, are still striving to gain recognition of rights being unjustly denied American citizens. While these are important steps on the path to equal treatment under the law, they unfortunately fall far short of closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots because not all injustices occur through violation of the law. In fact, the very laws that were meant to prevent those injustices cause some of them. To properly address this, we must turn to the lawmakers for assistance, but we must be the catalyst for change. We are the ones who should let them know when a law isn’t working, or when a new one is required to help redress the problems in our system.

Politicians would have us believe that the solution to all these problems is complicated, requiring thousands of pages of legislation. That they know the current system doesn't work as it was intended is obvious given that they have established their own retirement plan, which is not tied to Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid or to the welfare system in any way. After serving only one term in Congress, a politician is set for life, contrary to the average citizen who must work for many years to receive an ever-decreasing set of benefits

In reality, we need only look to the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". This simple concept is found in some form in virtually every faith known to man. Its first recorded appearance was in Vedic scriptures more than 5000 years ago and it has appeared in almost every sacred text since then. In the Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth restated this rule as "Love one another as you Love yourself", and calls it one of the two greatest commandments, upon which all other laws are based (Matthew 22:39-40). It is perhaps even more evident in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets”.

Another saying, often quoted to counter the reasoning for improving health care, education, and providing Social Security and welfare benefits, is this one:. “God helps those who help themselves”. The use of that quote, however, belies a simple and basic, fundamental truth. By providing those programs, we ~are~ helping ourselves. This assistance is more direct than people may realize. You may recall the riddle of the Sphinx. To paraphrase:
“What animal has one voice, is born four-footed, afterward becomes two-footed, then three-footed, then four-footed again, is weakest when it is four-footed, and slowest when it is three-footed?”
Oedipus, a tragic Greek hero, provided the answer to this riddle. He recognized the animal being described as “man”. This riddle not only serves as an allegory for the life cycle of a human being, but it can also represent mankind in general, or even the US in particular. The key to the riddle, however, is that a single human being progresses through all those stages. When we care for our young and old, we are also taking care of ourselves; we were all young once, in need of education, and hopefully still learning as we age. With luck, we will all live to a peaceful old age, able to share our wisdom and observe as our posterity takes up the reins and continues to drive and guide our nation. In a very real sense, when viewed this way, we help ourselves by “doing unto others”.

We need to insist on welfare reform, education reform, health care reform, Social Security reform and child care reform. We need to place the needs of the People ahead of the needs of corporations. We need to ask ourselves, "Is this how I want to be treated when I'm older?" We need to ask ourselves, "Is this how I want my children and grandchildren to live when they grow up? Do I want them to face the same hardships and struggles to provide for their children and for me?" We need to insist that the politicians -- who work for the People -- address the needs of the People, regardless of age, race, color, creed, gender, or orientation.

We don’t need another Oedipus, or a hero -- tragic or not -- to step out of the legends of the ages. It is our right and responsibility as True US Patriots to take an active part in the shaping of our nation. We are the heroes in this play, in this act, and it is our role to play for better or worse. It is time to accept our roles, and to play the part of the hero for generations current, past, and future.

By these signs shall a hero be known: an eye to see the truth, a heart to feel the truth, an arm to defend the truth. To that I would add: wisdom that strives to teach the truth, courage that dares speak the truth, love by which the truth shall live forever.
-- Patricia Kenneally Morrison

5 Comments:

Blogger nope said...

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