I am my brother’s keeper.

This is a post I have been sitting on for a while, instigated by a few heated discussions around the holiday table.  It’s probably better to have let some time pass before sharing.

I can’t be the only one who leaves a heated discussion with too much unsaid, and returns back to it in my head for days later, reliving it and imagining what I would have, could have, or should have said. If only we had writers and our arguments were more like the movies where we get our point across flawlessly, come up with something genius, mic drop and all. IF ONLY.

So I’m laying on an air mattress thinking of all that I wish I had said.  My excuse for sub-par argument performance this year is that I was exhausted from only a couple hours of (not) sleeping on said cold air mattress (pro tip: put a warm blanket on top of the mattress for you to lay on; don’t just rely on a mattress cover).  I get why people say family and politics do not mix well (things get personal because we know shit about each other, it ain’t pretty, and it is likely to be used against us), but if you can’t talk about deeper issues with your family and friends, I think we have a problem.

I’m in favor of openness in general, and especially when it comes to beliefs that affect the way we all live in society and treat others. You are unlikely to change someone’s mind from one conversation or argument, but over time, across people, when you see that there are other views beside yours, and it may be the norm, you begin to see it as a more valid point of view. This is when attitudes shift. Malcolm Gladwell called this The Tipping Point. Anyway, time to get things off my chest without getting too personal.

You there, talking about people you see spending their money on nails instead of buying necessities for their kid…some people are just crappy and/or have messed up priorities. But for every parent like this, how many others in that class are genuinely struggling? The welfare queen is a myth. The kind of fraud we are talking about is really as low as around 2%; it’s the cost of doing business. (The Atlantic has a great article on this.) That is not what will make or break this country or lower your taxes. But it will make a difference for those in need. Not to mention the rising tide that lifts all boats. I choose to see this idea as an argument for investing in our lower and middle classes, not the free market. When the poorest among us are able to succeed, we all benefit.

Statistics aside, let’s talk for a moment about confirmation bias.  You have this notion that people are frauds and our tax money shouldn’t go to helping these people, who clearly don’t deserve it.  But you are probably remembering people like this because they are simply confirming the bias you already had. If you think most of the cars driven today are red, you are going to notice all of the red cars, and not the others that are not red, or see them as merely outliers, exceptions to the rule (your rule).

And even if these parents are making terrible decisions that affect their kids, should the government not step in to help by providing some aid that may reach the child? Or do we cut that parent off, where that child has no hope now of ever getting what he needs?

Then there’s the family member who chimes in that the government wants to keep all of these people on welfare…for votes, I think? Power? Newsflash! Poor people barely making it by and relying on the government can’t afford to get off work to go vote, or pay for a babysitter to watch their kids while they go vote. Or have the time or energy after working 2 jobs to drag their kids out with them to go vote. Sure, they may find a way to vote, but in such large numbers? I don’t think so. Those are not the people in power, and those are not the people keeping politicians in power. Give me a break. But, I shouldn’t be surprised by such an illogical argument coming from the person who also made The Bubble Argument of 2013.

This is what I call it in my head, because I barely had the energy to get riled up about it at the dinner table. Apparently, I am living in a bubble. Presumably, a liberal one. Cue the record scratch. Let’s consider the source so everyone understands the irony…you have never left the country. You have never lived in a big city among diversity, among poverty. I have lived in two major cities (still do), worked in a prison, worked with the disabled, and have traveled quite a bit.  I’ve been exposed to poverty, crime, diversity, and other cultures. Now, I know I am privileged. I have a big house in a nice neighborhood. I live in a pretty cushy bubble, but it has not always been that way. But I am aware of my bubble. I may live in a bubble, but my bubble is at least much bigger than yours.

But it gets better! Let’s talk about social supports. A lot of people who are struggling are not lucky enough to have the social supports we have.  This whole conversation took place where one could argue might as well be called a halfway house for family members who need help getting back on their feet. You, Mr. Bubble, are one of them. You didn’t need government assistance, because you had family assistance. But don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Almost everyone at the table at some point in their lives, enjoyed similar family assistance. How many people have a place to live rent-free, utility free, someone to cook and clean for you, pay for the groceries, etc., while you pay off your debts, or find a job and save up until you can afford your own place?

We have such a sense of “other” in this country that we are willing to help our family, but everyone else, people we don’t relate to and can’t empathize with are lost on us. What is rich, is that they do not see the discrepancy with the way they view those they love and others. The people in their family are worthy of helping, but screw the rest. They don’t deserve it and are gaming the system. The sooner we realize that we are all alike and we all have our faults, the sooner we can empathize and help others.

This blog’s title is a reference to the gratitude I have and how fortunate I am to live the life I live.  Whenever I am tempted to judge, lose my patience, or choose not to empathize with someone in a worse situation, I remember the saying “There but for the grace of God go I.” Some might say that this statement implies that our good fortune or misfortune is all a matter of luck, rather than good decisions and hard work. I believe it is a combination of both, but it is much easier to make good decisions for your life if you have the best opportunities, role models, and mental health on your side-all a product of luck. So keep an open mind and heart and follow the golden rule. After all, we are our brothers’ keepers.


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