The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

MY BROTHER’S KEEPER

He was sitting on a backpack outside the 7-eleven last Thursday about 7:30 in the morning.  I had stopped by to pick up a cup of coffee.  As I came out with my warm cup of Joe in my hand, he asked me in a soft voice if I could spare any change.

Before I answered, I took a moment to size him up.  He was in his late teens, perhaps his early 20’s, freshly washed and very deferential.  He actually said, “Please” when he made his request – a word that is seldom used by most in society today.  That disposed me to wanting to help him.

I asked the young man, “Why do you need the change?”

He answered that he was trying to get bus fare together.  So I gave him the change I had in my pocket, wished him a good day and drove home.

The following day I stopped by the convenience store again at about the same time.  The young man I met the day before was there once again.  Again he asked me for some change as I exited the store and showed no apparent recognition that he had met me the day before.  Perhaps I’m just one of those highly forgettable people.

As I had done previously, I asked him why he needed the money and got the same response – that it was for bus fare.  It occurred to me that if he had to go to school or a job he would have been certain to make sure he had enough money to get to his destination.  This suggested that he wasn’t looking for bus fare but that he had developed this ploy as part of a panhandling routine.

I felt sorry for this kid, so I asked him where he needed to go by bus.  He gave me his destination which was about eight miles away.  I was curious whether he was just scamming the people who patronized the store or really wanted to go where he said, so I responded, “You know, I have some free time on my hands and if you’d like I’d be happy to drive you there.”

“No, that’s okay,” he said.

That response confirmed what I suspected.

I thought for a moment about starting a conversation as to why a young guy in good health should have descended to panhandling as a way of life.  What a tragedy.  But then I thought better of it.  After all, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Well, in a sense the Federal government has made all of us into our brothers’ keepers by taxing us to subsidize those whom the politicians have determined to be in need.  That number has increased significantly in the last five years.

I have never refused anyone a small handout.  Nor have I generally given much thought to whether the story the panhandler gave as a reason for needing my donation was true or a complete fabrication.  In all honesty, a quarter or a dollar isn’t going to change my life – but it might help out the person who is in sincere need.

What bothers me about my recent encounter is that our culture has changed so much that youngsters like the kid I met find it easier to beg for a living than to go out and try to get a job – even a job doing odd jobs.  I know there’s something that he could do – if only offering to help customers carry their packages to their cars at the large supermarket which shares the parking lot with the convenience store.

Years ago there was an expression that was in common use.  That phrase was “workaholic.”  I think the term has been deleted from the dictionary.  Today those who have worked hard, built businesses and provided employment for millions of people whom they have hired for their ventures are vilified.  Success is denigrated.  Achievement is minimized.  So what is the message that our government is offering the nation?  “There’s no need to work – and you should feel good about that because the government is here to take care of you.”

And the government is indeed “taking care” of more and more of us.  In fact, if you look at the economics of it, maybe my young friend at the convenience store has got it right in refusing to find a job and become self-sufficient.

According to a study that Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R – AL) staff compiled based on data from the U. S. Census Bureau, the average hourly rate for being on welfare which includes food subsidies, housing subsidies, medical assistance and cash assistance is $30.60.  The median household income per working American is $25.03  before adjusting downward for income taxes.  After adjustment that number declines to as little as $21.50 per hour, depending on filing status and deductions.  And then there is a further reduction from that amount in jurisdictions in which the worker is subject to state or local income tax.  (The study was conducted using 2012 data and published in 2013).

Whether the present administration likes it or not, the United States was founded based on Judaeo-Christian ethics.  In both those religious traditions there is a strong admonition for believers to offer a helping hand and charity to those who are less fortunate than they.

Should people help their brother when he cries out in need?  I believe that each of us should – but that is a matter of choice and personal conscience.  When the government says, “We are our brother’s keeper” there is neither true charity rendered to the recipients nor is there dignity conferred by the action.  And if the government purposefully attempts to make idleness a life goal and more profitable than contributing to society through personal work and effort, that is nothing short of complete venality.

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