Lookin’ into the lost
forgotten years for dignity.
— Bob Dylan
I got into an argument recently with a person for whom I have lots of respect. He’s a self-made man, one of those “up-by-the-bootstraps” success stories that’s so great to hear.
He took exception to my contention that raising generations of youngsters to rely on government assistance is more harmful to recipients than it is beneficial. Such reliance is, in fact, demeaning, I told him.
His reply: “You don’t know what it’s like to grow up poor.”
I could have dinged him for jumping to the conclusion that I — for whatever reason he might have assumed — had never dealt with poverty. But I let that slide. Instead, I gave him a little of my family history, told him about hardships I daresay even he most likely had not endured.
But our argument was not about me. It was about families growing up to rely on “government checks” as a means of survival. It’s about youngsters being taught to “work the system” as opposed to being encouraged to “do for yourself because no one’s going to do it for you.”
Even parents who don’t openly advocate reliance on some mysterious but benevolent entity that sends a sum of money every month damage the psyche of their children by not reinforcing that most American of values: the contention that hard work and perseverance overcome whatever hardships one encounters.
Too many people try to make opposition to government — and thus taxpayer-funded — assistance a cultural or a socio-economic or even a racial issue. And while there are certainly many whose opposition is based on such reasoning, the argument that able-bodied individuals are lessened when they grow to rely on others for their care and sustenance transcends race and culture.
How is a child to learn self-reliance if he or she is taught at a young age that meals, clothing, housing, transportation and other essentials are freely available for those willing to sign a piece of paper? What motivation is there for an adolescent to start preparing for a career when he’s never heard his parents discuss the ups and downs related to their jobs?
Unlike those who would argue all measures of assistance should be discontinued, I believe there are people in this country who truly could not survive without help. I, for one, don’t mind that some of my tax dollars are used to care for such individuals. This is, after all, a country founded on such principles as helping those who cannot help themselves.
But I strongly urge our leaders to start drawing the line at subsidizing individuals’ needs in such a way that those individuals lose the incentive to take care of themselves and their families. Once that happens, it’s not just the overburdened taxpayers who are losers.
The individuals who have come to rely on others for their needs start to lose their self-worth and, indeed, their very humanity. Once that happens, they buy into the concept that there is no reason for them to earn their own way, that they don’t have to go out and make a living by the sweat of their brow.
That’s when the vicious circle starts spinning out of control, only to perpetuate itself with subsequent generations.
And, as I asked this man who had overcome all kinds of obstacles to find success in the business world, where’s the dignity in that?