As I’m puzzling about where to put my writing attention, my mind is buzzing with questions. These days, no matter how many answers I have, there are always more questions. My biggest question this morning is, “Why don’t people get it?” That “it” is a cavernous category. There are so many basic concepts that seem pretty darn simple to me, and they all really come down to one: “We all do better when we all do better,” an aphorism coined by Senator Paul Wellstone in a 1999 speech to the Sheet Metal Workers Union. This is the idea that underlies unions: we stick together, we support each other, we’re stronger, and we can make positive changes.
Paul talked about the appalling attempts of Congress, with Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, to undermine prevailing protections with double-speak titles: efforts to weaken OSHA called the Safe Act, allowing companies to hire their own consultants and exempt themselves from government sanctions and penalties. Or efforts to overturn the forty-hour work week called the Family Friendly Workplace Act. Efforts to go back to company unions called the Team Act. Paul Wellstone fought all these efforts and would be appalled to see what is going on today.
We all do better if free, quality education is available for everyone. Without the quality education I received in public schools and two state universities, I would neither know that “aphorism” means “a short pithy instructive statement”, nor how to spell it. I also wouldn’t know the correct usage of neither/nor. The Earth would not rock off its axis if you and I didn’t have that knowledge, but our society and our world are impacted very heavily by an educated citizenry who value lifelong living; understand how to ask good questions and work on solutions; who can do work that is satisfying and sustaining; who know how to communicate and create meaningful work and personal relationships; who comprehend the structure of a democracy, how it is supposed to work, and what their roles can be within it.
We all do better if we have good, affordable health care so we can access preventative wellness care to keep healthy and critical care when the need arises, without having to make the choice between getting food or getting health care and without going bankrupt or losing our home because we didn’t have sufficient medical insurance. We would all do better if those of us who are in need could get excellent mental health care without being stigmatized.
We all do better if we can walk on the street without fear and live in a safe place we can call “home.” We all do better if we can live in nurturing families and communities.
We all do better if we have opportunities to obtain whatever kind of education fits for us, secure a job, and get a home without discrimination of any kind putting obstacles in our way to leading a fulfilling life.
Why is it that some people don’t understand that their lives are better when they help others? I have often experienced the generosity of people who don’t have very much. In Mexico, I stayed with a family for a month while I went to school, and the mother, the señora, served us meat with every dinner, an expensive sacrifice, even though her family was boarding me because they needed the money. I actually preferred tacos and stuffed peppers to chunks of meat, but I couldn’t tell them because I didn’t want to insult them. The señora was also generous with her time, proofreading my essays and teasingly correcting my spoken Spanish. I also know very generous people who live very comfortably, but people with less money often have to rely on others, and they also understand what it is to be without. The Biblical story of the loaves and fishes is not a parable about magical food, but about the miracle of sharing.
I’ve never understood why some people didn’t get bonked with the wand of generosity, because it just seems to be common sense, and it feels good, to share with others when we have more than we need, especially when it lifts other people up.
Even if people don’t quite see or share the value of caring for our fellow beings, there are just plain practical and selfish reasons to want everyone to do better. If people do not live in fear and deprivation, they are much less likely to steal or hurt others out of desperation. The level of violence has been escalating in our country, as unhealthy, angry people use their fists or pick up guns to take their rage and frustration out on others. As the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us expands, as tax breaks and benefits accrue to the wealthy at the expense of people with lower incomes, the frustration, anger, and hopelessness grow as people try to just live a decent life and provide for themselves and their families. When people sequester themselves in gated communities, perhaps they see themselves as privileged, but it seems to me they are locking themselves in, being voluntary prisoners, instead of living without fear in their community.
People with adequate healthy care are not reliant on expensive visits to the emergency room with everyone else paying increasing insurance premiums to cover the cost. If people are healthier, happier, with adequate education, they are likely to be better at whatever work they do, and we would all have the blessing of interacting with people who are good at their jobs, providing excellent service.
Along with many others, I’m frustrated with the partisan politics and the voters who support candidates who don’t seem to understand their responsibilities or what the “common good” means. Doesn’t a Supreme Court candidate who will need intelligent and reasoned judgment pretty much disqualify himself when he dissolves into rage, partisan accusations, and bullying right on the stand? Doesn’t a president involved in thousands of lawsuits who routinely bullies and demeans women, immigrants, minorities, and reporters disqualify himself as a leader of the country?
What I do understand is that we have a powerful tool to make a difference, and that is the right to vote. Fight for what you care about, education, health care, human rights, social security, gun laws, environmental standards, or anything else. Research the candidates, and support those who represent your values. Talk to others and encourage others not to sink into apathy or hopelessness. That’s a sure win for the opposition.