Elizabeth Aquino, a fellow blogger, lit a fire under my butt today with her blog post. You can read her post by clicking on her name, or I can give you the Cliff Notes version. Open-minded, open-hearted person that she is, she occasionally checks out blog posts from folks whose political leanings are vastly different from her own. In doing so recently, she came across one blogger who presented the notion that individuals who rely on social assistance for food, money, healthcare, etc. ought to be ashamed to do so as well as humble and thankful for the assistance. There was clearly some judgment about whether certain individuals deserve public assistance or if it is simply an enormous scam that a large portion of the population is taking advantage of.
Elizabeth had her own (very gracious) thoughts and ponderings on the subject and she asked for input from her readers. I started to comment and then realized this was going to be a looooong reply, so I had probably better put it on my blog instead. Here goes:
The notion of taxes was created in order to centralize a way to pay for things that we all, as citizens of a country or city or state, utilize to some degree. There have been many discussions about how to make this fair over the centuries, but ultimately, I think we can all agree that, even though we grumble about the amount of taxes we pay, we all enjoy some benefits from this system. I certainly sleep better at night knowing that if my smoke alarm goes off at 2AM, all I have to do is get my family out of the house and call 911. Ditto for the police officers in my neighborhood and the roads I use to get to school and work and the grocery store. I am grateful for the state employees that manage the public library and the DMV and the ones who maintain the sewer lines, among others. I don't feel as though I need to apologize to them for using these services. Nor do I feel as though I ought to sneak around and pretend I don't use them.
Sure, there are folks who use various services more often than I - the ones who drive everywhere all the time or sit at the library for hours on end job hunting or using the computers. I'm certain there are also those people who use them less often than I do, and I'm okay with that. Social services are the same as far as I am concerned. By the grace of God, may I never have to apply for food stamps or Medicaid. But if I do, it is a comfort knowing that they exist. And I don't begrudge those folks who do use these services. I am certain that there are individuals who abuse these systems, but do I believe that everyone does? Nope. Do I think that just because there are some scammers playing the system, we should brand everyone using the system with the same iron? Nope.
I honestly believe that until we, as citizens, can shift our mindset away from our "individual freedoms" and toward a "collective consciousness," we will remain separate from each other and some of the best solutions available. As Americans, this notion of individuality is centrally important to our identity but it only goes so far. And when it begins to damage our notion of what it means to be part of a team, acknowledging everyone's strengths and weaknesses and working with them to create a better whole, rather than shaming individuals for things that are largely out of their control, we are all harmed.
I no more believe that it is shameful to access and utilize social services than to ride my Trek down the local paved bike path. Those things exist as a testament to what we can do together and for equal use by those who need it when they need it. So the next time you need a police officer or a firefighter, by all means, thank them, and then remember that these things, these lifesaving things, are a gift to us all from us all.