A post on my Facebook page recently got me thinking about how our moral beliefs are formed. Someone said, concerning the recent election of Doug Ford as Premier of Ontario: “Prairie folk, of which I guess I am one, think differently when it comes to business and taking responsibility for one’s self.”
What, I asked myself does that mean? Clearly, she’s implying that I think differently than she does when it comes to business. She is implying that whereas she takes responsibility for herself, I don’t, or at least I don’t think people should be forced/expected to take responsibility for themselves.
Maybe people don’t offer each other help in the Prairies. Geez, I hope that isn’t true. Or do they just offer it to their own kind, their own tribe, their own sort? In what ways is this woman’s world different from mine? Maybe she’s never been poor? Never been desperate? Never been grateful beyond measure for a helping hand in a rough time?
I have to ask myself about the experiences she has had that would bring her to imply such a thing. The problem with social media is, of course, that we can’t sit down and have a lengthy discussion that would lead to such an understanding. Bummer.
And different from whom? Well, from me presumably, and correctly, if that means you could justify supporting someone like Doug Ford in a public position of any kind.
So, let’s parse the statement. How do I feel about business? Well, generally favorable. People need to work. They need jobs. Things need to get made. People need paychecks. Do I think businesses should be able to treat people unfairly? Nope. Do I think unions are a necessary part of the checks and balances of the world? Yup. (Although I do recognize unions can become as corrupt with power as anything else.) Do I think businesses should benefit from unfair tax advantages when middle income and poor people suffer an unfair tax burden? Nope. So, I’m sure there’s room in there for us to both think differently, but also to agree.
Then we come to the second point… and here is the one to which I take exception. This person — a smart and good person, I’m sure — seems to imply that I do not believe in taking responsibility for myself. Snort. Seriously? I’ve worked since I was sixteen, the age when I found myself alone in the world. I’ve worked at every sort of crappy job you can think of… and yet still, working hard, making next to nothing, there were times when I found myself on the ragged edge of homelessness and financial ruin. THANK GOD for the safety net afforded me at those times. It tided me over. I kept my shitty apartment until I could find another low-paying job and keep going. And thank God for my Best Beloved as well, who is a businessman; a senior executive in fact. (And yes, I admit that without him I’d still be working crappy jobs I’m no good at.)
So, because of the safety net, and because of (indirectly) business, I’ve been able to write and publish a number of books. Now, some people may say my books are worth nothing. Fair enough. However, I have heard from others that their lives have been changed for the better by my work. So… for them, thanks for the handout that made it possible.
There were months… yes, months, when I lived on Cream of Wheat, Tang (God help me), and sardines. The cheapest of the food groups. I slept on couches. I worked at jobs I hated, and at which I was not good at all.
People like my posting friend seem to believe there are hordes of freeloaders out there living large off welfare and other handouts. I suspect (perhaps I’m wrong) that she has never really been poor, never really been hungry, and terrified and despairing. I have, and I have lived among these people. It’s a hard, hard life and no one would choose it.
I am delighted to give my tax dollars to offer a hand up, a handout, a bridge, to people who are suffering. And yes, of course, I know that some of them may never surface. They may always, for one reason or another, need help. And what are those reasons? Being a refugee, dealing with culture change and PTSD. Being mentally ill in other ways. Being addicted. Being physically ill. Being constitutionally unable to function in society for any number of reasons. A lack of education. A lack of jobs and decent housing and medical care. Who the hell am I to judge? Are there abuses to the social welfare system? I’m sure there are, but not nearly as many as the abuses to the tax system perpetrated by the top .5% of wealthy people and the businesses they run.
I don’t call myself a Christian… although neither do I shy away from being so labeled (it’s an honor)… but I do believe Christ was right when he said that whosoever helps the least of these, helps me. The world is harsh and cold and very few people live lives in which prosperity is even a distant option. But the world can also be caring and hospitable and loving. We can, as my friend Sr. Rita Woehkle says, meet our dear neighbor where they are without judgment and care for them.
I don’t believe ‘prairie people’ wouldn’t help their dear neighbors, no matter who they are, no matter what they need, because I choose to believe that prairie people, like all other peoples, have the capacity for moral courage and openness of heart.
What a horrible world it would be if I couldn’t believe that. So.. make a Kiva loan, visit the prisoner, help out at a food bank, help refugees, do the work that needs to be done, and the world will be better and we won’t need these painful conversations any longer. See you there.