January 22, 2014

The Price of Dignity

When it comes to eliminating poverty, private charity cannot replace public policy.Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Fifty years ago this month, in his first State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Johnson urged Congress and the American people to join him in the struggle against poverty; it was a struggle, he said, we could “not afford to lose.” Johnson understood that to improve the condition of the destitute, we had to attack the root causes of poverty, and not merely its symptoms.

In the years that followed, Johnson’s administration launched a volley of programs, many of which are still with us today, to offer the poor better education, better healthcare, better jobs, and better homes. They included Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, better funding for K-12 education, loans to low-income college students, housing assistance for low-income families, and legal aid for the poor. Under Johnson, the food stamp pilot project became a permanent program that would eventually eliminate severe malnutrition, which, in the early 60s, made parts of the US seem as if they were in a Third World country.

Nevertheless, in politics as in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and it did not take long before the Right was denouncing the war on poverty as a failure. President Reagan led the way with his famous dictum, “We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.” This idea has been reiterated umpteen times down the decades, embellished with accounts of Cadillac-driving welfare queens, unemployed gourmets, and surfers collecting food stamps. If people remain poor, we’re told, that’s because assistance programs make life too cushy for them. The best way to help them escape the trap of poverty is thus to shrink or abolish the programs designed for their benefit. The result, since the 1980s, has been a cutback in public spending, and today the axe hangs over several critical programs, including food stamps.

But while it’s easy enough to propagate myths as gospel truth, the facts speak clearly enough for themselves. While there have no doubt been abuses of government programs, the evidence shows that these programs work. Between 1967 and 2012, they helped lower the overall poverty rate from 26% to 16%, and child poverty from 29% to 19%. According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, today’s safety net lifts 41 million people, including 9 million children, above the poverty line. In 2011 alone, food stamps kept 4.7 million Americans, including 2.1 million children, out of poverty.

However, despite undeniable progress, poverty in the US is still rampant. In 2012, almost 50 million people were counted as poor, with 16 million “extremely poor” living below half the poverty line. These figures remind us that we still have far to go to make this country a haven of social and economic justice. The deficit hawks lament that we can’t afford to spend on programs that assist the poor, but the truth is that our ability to fight poverty is not stymied by a shortage of funds but by policies and laws that benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Over the past half-century, the share of the nation’s wealth going to the top 1% of households has more than doubled. Between 2009 and 2010, 93% of all new income generated went to the top 1%; only 7%, crumbs off the table, went to the remaining 99%. While the incomes of the rich have soared, fast food and service sector workers are paid minimum wages, with no extra benefits. Often they’re forced to work two jobs just to support their families, and an illness in the household can be a financial catastrophe.

We have the resources to overcome poverty. The big question, as always, is whether we have the will to do so. Looking at the persistence of poverty from a Buddhist perspective, we can detect beneath the policy debates a contest between two contrary conceptions of human nature, each entailing a distinct moral vision. One sees people as essentially separate, responsible only for their personal interests and their narrow circle of family and friends. From this perspective, we are all locked into unavoidable competition against one another for the good things of life, and the best way to ensure our success is to enhance our power and influence to shape public policy to our advantage. This point of view sees the poor as failures, as castoffs who must patiently endure their pitiable fate. We’re entitled to help them, of course, but our help should be considered an act of private charity, not a plank of policy—and, therefore, not our collective responsibility.

The other viewpoint—one commensurate with a Buddhist vision—sees people as responsible for one another; indeed, from the highest standpoint, it sees that people are one another, interdependent and mutually sustaining, each in all and all in each. From this perspective, we see others not as obstacles to our own success, nor as mere means to our own advancement, but as ends in themselves, and as meriting a fair chance to develop their own capacities to the fullest. While there are inevitable limits to our personal ability to help everyone in need, we are each obliged to make some contribution to the well-being of the nation to which we belong and the communities in which we participate. This obligation is not merely personal. It extends to our collective voice, the state, which, as the organ of national policy, must endeavor to see that no one lacks the basic amenities of a decent life.

In this vision, poverty reflects negatively not only on those it affects but on our social order, our nation, and even ourselves—on each of us individually and collectively. If some in our midst are poor, faced with a daily struggle to pay for food, rent, and medical bills, that is in part because I, too, am poor—insufficiently endowed with the love, compassion, and sense of justice that might motivate me to redress their poverty. But we can act together, and we do so by enacting programs and policies that will improve the lot of those who can’t help themselves. We do so from a deep conviction that every human person possesses intrinsic dignity and must be given an opportunity to realize that dignity. And we do so, too, from the faith that when people are shown respect, they will reciprocate by acting responsibly from a place of inner dignity.

Poverty still persists today because we have lost the moral perspective as the polestar of public policy. Instead we follow the law of the jungle, content to abandon the poor to their own devices, demanding that they marshal resources they simply do not possess. And the reason we have moved in this direction, drifting away from the high ideals of the Great Society era, is because the vision and values of corporate capitalism have gained ascendency over those of human solidarity and mutual responsibility. To eliminate poverty, this trend must be reversed. The individualistic vision must give way to one that stresses our essential unity; competition must be balanced by mutual assistance and respect.

More than the elimination of poverty depends on this. In the long run, it may indeed be the necessary condition for saving civilization itself.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Theravada Buddhist monk originally from New York City. He is the former editor of the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and has many important publications to his credit, the most recent being his full translation of the Anguttara Nikaya (Wisdom Publications, 2012). In 2008, he founded Buddhist Global Relief, a nonprofit sponsoring hunger relief and education in countries suffering from chronic poverty and malnutrition.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Further Reading: Preserving the Fecundity of the Earth | A Moral Politics: Nourishing change in US food policy | Into the Fire: Food in the Age of Climate Change | The Attack at Home: A new bill threatens the food security of millions

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Dharma_Dude's picture

Raising the minimum wage to a livable wage and securing equal pay for women are two ways of helping to reduce poverty within our borders. However, many conservatives in Congress refuse to vote for increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage and paying women an equal salary to their male co-workers for performing the same kinds of work.

Oddly enough, by increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage and securing equal pay for women in the workplace, the need for such extensive federal social service programs could be reduced since more workers would be earning more money to support themselves and their families. So if the GOP is truly concerned with reducing big government, reducing federal social service programs, and empowering hard-working Americans, why won't they act on increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage and paying women an equal salary to their male co-workers??

Wade Lee Hudson's picture

As one way to reconcile some of the various points of view expressed in the comments here, I propose that as a society, we should see to it that, one way or the other, everyone who wants to work and is able to work can find a living-wage job.

Until we achieve that goal, social insurance programs, or "welfare," like food stamps and unemployment insurance are needed on a large scale.

But when everyone can find a living-wage job, we would have less need for those programs.

If necessary, as a last resort, the federal government can send money to local governments to meet human and environmental needs that are being neglected.

Initially, this jobs program could be funded with a small tax on unproductive Wall Street speculation. Once more people were employed, the economy would grow, which would generate more revenues that could be used to hire more people, until everyone who wants to work can find a job.

If you're interested in this train of thought, you may want to consider signing the Guarantee Living-Wage Job Opportunities petition at http://www.wadeswire.org/?p=330.

matil326's picture

There is a recently published, very well notated book that comes to mind as I read this article and many of the subscriber comments. Based in a comprehensive research of the who, what, when, where, and how of American domestic policy over the past forty years, the authors of Dollarocracy, Nichols and McChesney document how there has been a planned movement to consolidate capital into the hands of a few while poverty increases and up-ward mobility stagnates.

The 2012 nation-wide election campaigns expenditure peaked at $10 billion coming closer than ever to what has been termed "a corporate blueprint to dominate democracy." Moving from spending millions to billions, engaging money and power against any policy that would curtail their influence, the moneyed establishment has expeditiously focused on dismantling laws that might obstruct their growing interest to amass more and more wealth. A primary target has been a redefinition of the First Amendment by giving corporations personhood status with free speech rights. By defining the dollar as an element of free speech, the marrying of money and the media into an election complex has consequentially altered how election campaigns are conducted in this country. It's focus is to disenfranchise those with the "wrong" vote, and denigrate those candidates who are deemed to pose an "assault on the enterprise system."

The outcome is one dollar = one vote vs. one person = one vote. America is being pushed into an increasing political disrepair and moral crisis from democracy into Dollarocracy.

To quote Bhikkhu Bodhi, "(T)he truth is that our ability to fight poverty is not stymied by a shortage of funds but by policies and laws that benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else...(W)e are each obliged to make some contribution to the well-being of the nation...and the communities in which we participate."

There is a moral imperative here to shine a light on the facts that are contributing to this national demise. Learn what is really going on. Be curious. Know what is true. Speak your truth. Share your truth. Vote your truth. We can all do that.

wilnerj's picture

That corporations are considered persons and hence protected by the fourteenth amendment strengthens the organizations that weigh in against the concentration of capital both financial and political in nature. In other words when corporations are protected with the right of due process and yes even under the first amendment with the right of free speech this also includes trade unions, civil associations, community advocacy groups, and other non-profits that are also incorporated and thus considered persons.

Richard Fidler's picture

So...you're saying let the children starve?

aewhitehouse's picture

Classic strawman if there ever was one.

lanbrown1's picture

I was a bit surprised to see such a political article featured in Tricycle. Bhikkhu Bodhi is clearly a caring monk who has strong feelings regarding poverty. His buddhist global relief organization is focused on many locations where significant help can occur even with limited resources. I have lived a large part of my life in a number of the Asian locations he seeks to help. I would observe that the Sangha in Asian is not integrally involved in such community relief work. So Bhikku Bodhi is unusual in his charitable mission. The current polarization of Buddhists an Tamils in Sri Lanka and Buddhists and Muslems in Burma highlights the difficulty Buddhists have in 'walking the talk.' The idea of Buddhist revolutionary theology has been poorly explored.

I was most struck by the tone of Bhikkhu Bodhi's advocacy. I noted around a dozen statements in his writing which vilified his view of conservatives and capitalism. I would hope he agrees that the dominate US economic approach (capitalism) and the public policy agenda of poverty are systemic. Thinking about them as separate can fool the observer. Bhikkhu Bodhi cited various statistics which to his mind indicated the unquestioned success/progress of America's 50 year war on poverty. Statistics are tricky things and they can be constructed for distinct points of view. If you examine the organizations he uses for his 'data,' they appear to me to be lobbying groups with a clear social agenda. Of course, there are such groups advocating an alternative view of the failure of our poverty programs. We have constructed a large institutional group of organizations and a media with a strong self sustaining view of continuing or jettisoning the social programs in our poverty war. They have become living breathing organisms consumed by their own truth and survival. We need more mindfulness and dialogue led by our confusion.

The issues he raises are complex and require humility and uncertainly in how to proceed. Our current political process is riveted with each side vilifying the other. No constructive dialogue seems possible and that seems to breed frustration on both sides leading to more of the same self defeating behavior. We are an analytic qua science culture and we have become all to reliant on facts via statistics. Even the numeric measure of poverty we use for our policy agendas is flawed and subject to misleading inference. I agree with another commentor who said 'This is why for me “skillful means” involves steering clear of blaming individuals, political figures, political bodies, etc. We need a new paradigm.

Richard Fidler's picture

You're looking at the Heritage website, I gather. Data was collected in 2007--don't know how much of it holds up today. I do not see how owning a TV, having cell phones, and such as that gives us any information about how the poor are actually living. Can they make rent every month? Do they run out of money when food stamps give out? Are they surviving because of social safety net programs--rent subsidies, utility payments, food stamps? I know people who are poor and the picture Heritage paints looks very strange to me. Do you know the poor--are you friends with them? Does the picture look right to you?

Richard Fidler's picture

I have a very dear friend who is "on the system" and she has a very hard time. It is easy to criticize people who occasionally buy extravagances on food stamps, smoke cigarettes, or refuse to accept a 20 hour a week job for minimum wage, but when you look closely at the lives they lead, you tend to throw blame out the window. So many people wish to punish the poor for making bad decisions, but I think that attitude is wrong. Why not just offer them what they need to live satisfactory lives: jobs that pay enough for support, drug and alcohol treatment programs for those that need them, disability payments sufficient to keep people off the system, decent job training programs, childcare for the young? I think most people want to get off the system and contribute to society: let's give them what they need without blaming them or comparing them to the poor in other countries..

wilnerj's picture

Well stated.

Not all conservatives and certainly not all Republicans should be lumped into the same category as those who are stalwart opponents to the interests of the poor and needy. There is is such an animal as progressive conservatism. It exists in the form of a political party in Canada and proclaimed by the PM of England David Cameron. It also exists in the U.S.

We all need to put our partisan and ideological dispositions aside and carefully tackle this problem of inequitable distribution of wealth and income here in the states and worldwide. Perhaps we can find a common ground.

namo buddhaya
na mo put taa ya
__/|\__.

wilnerj's picture

Agreed.

One should also consider the hidden tax called inflation. The U.S. dollar today does not have the same purchasing power as the dollar of 1970.

Psiguy's picture

We are not handed enlightenment or instant awakening, we must work for it. When we have awakened, we are guided not to hand it out freely, but to answer questions that guide others on their own path toward it.

However, they must first know enough to ask the questions or we are not to share the answers. Struggle on the path empties the self in order to provide one the opportunity for true strength. You only become strong by being weak. While we are full of ourselves we will remain weak!

bhb21's picture

i am heartened at the responses i read that say the government programs are not the answer! we see that they accomplish the opposite of what they intend and waste huge amounts of money. even with all of our taxes we still are the most giving nation in the world. give us some of the money back and empower the individual.

i would suggest that private charities could help tremendously as they always did in the past. It provides for personal involvement by the giver. it often has strings attached to the receiver - do some kind of work, help others, no money for alcohol or drugs, stay in school, take classes with each gift designed with the specific requirements of the receiver. provide a human connection that cares. that will make a difference.

government welfare has taken us out of the responsibility of caring for each other. that is a tremendous loss that must be regained. we must trust that without government involvement enough of us will response as we always do. our spiritual selves, on both sides of the equation, will be all the better for it.

and once again - keep the magazine out of politics - the writers embarass themselves with their lack of knowledge and their "collectiviest" outlook which does not work here.

wilnerj's picture

The government largesse does not have to be opposed to private giving. Indeed it supports it. Charitable institutions and community based organizations could not perform the public outreach to the extent that they serve without the support of the state. There is an alternative to a zero-sum (dualistic) understanding of public policy. Perhaps one can commence this search for a middle ground with Public Choice Theory? The relationship between distributive justice and private giving can become increasingly symbiotic if we reexamine policy along this possible and tenable trajectory.

william allred's picture

The article references LBJ's declaration of war on poverty, but makes no reference or case in regard to his continuance and tenfold increase in the prosecution of war against a Southeast Asian people. The death of poor and young American men, with no choice as draftees and no guiding moral principle to buoy their crushed spirits as a result of what they did to survive, is the war which became his legacy and a scar which is only diminished by the ongoing Middle eastern war for the ages. So much treasure and life blood and International goodwill, squandered for a few wealthy industrialists enrichment.
I cry "Foul", at the invocation of the man's name and supposed good intentions.

wilnerj's picture

Yes, that is the rub: guns or butter. Where are our priorities and does our elected officials follow them?

wilnerj's picture

Agreed.

It takes a lot of patience and persistence to keep at it in educating the populace or rather provoking them to think. I know this sounds and is elitist. But this education and provocation to debate and better yet discuss invites many viewpoints. One person may seek to educate from the right and another from the left but through their participation one can hope that over time it percolates down into the town square deepening the quality of public discourse and enabling the voters to make informed choices beyond their immediate interests.

I know, dream on. But, "hope springs eternal." :)

Also you point justifies limited governance as envisioned by the Federalists Hamilton, Madison and John Jay

Psiguy's picture

I agree with you.

Johnson used the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident which was a total fabrication as his justification to enter the Vietnam War and thus cause himself to appear more mainstream against the pro military hawk Sen Barry Goldwater in the November 1964 election. It was politics.

My eyes were opened when I read Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ where he described the reason for the Vietnam War. He described it as a war to stop an imposition of French Catholicism on the Buddhist Vietnamese. The Catholic Bishop, Ngô Đình Thục was the elder brother of Ngo Dinh Diem, the South Vietnamese President.

Especially in light of the recent claims that Johnson was behind his predecessor's death, he does not warrant praise.

Tharpa Pema's picture

My experience is somewhat different. Government welfare inspires me to give more; it does not make me care less for others. I would like to understand: in your experience, what is the specifc psychological mechanism by which government welfare discourages you from caring about others. Respectfully, I would like to know.

Psiguy's picture

It is simple. I work with many people who are on disability. They come to me to heal themselves.

My first question to them is "How are you going to reconcile your desire to heal and the vested interest you have in remaining disabled in order to receive the benefits. "

Many start crying and are not willing to make the change due to the security of the government handouts... My response.. "Come back when you want to get well."

Tharpa Pema's picture

Are you kind to them? Do you empathize with their fear?

Psiguy's picture

"Do you empathize with their fear?" empathize: to understand and share the feelings of another

Most of the time I feel the full force of a person's fear even when they physically block themselves from feeling it. Often, the fear is in their soul and blocked by all the physical defense mechanisms in their body.

However a spring flowing clean water outward will never allow dirty water in. If I can radiate Love, I am aware of their pain but do not make it my own.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Do you believe you radiate love?

Psiguy's picture

Only through my nothingness. While I may be a radiator, I am not the source. It is only done through me, not from me.

Thus

namaste'

Tharpa Pema's picture

I appreciate your sharing. I have learned from it. I find myself awaiting a more definitive expression of humility from you, an acknowledgement that you see, in yourself also, the human fallibility you ascribe to others. It would reduce my fear of you.

Perhaps you feel under attack. It’s hard to tell without nonverbal cues. When I feel threatened, I probably sound more puffed up than I usually do.

I appreciate you.

Psiguy's picture

" the human fallibility you ascribe to others."

If I learned from all my mistakes I would be a genius. I am in this journey just like everyone else..... I'm in the school of hard knocks and my class colors are black & blue! Like everyone else, I am my own biggest obstacle..... To ever think that I am "there" is to slip backward even if I do get glimpses of the treasure occasionally.

Please understand, seeing fallibility in others is not important, seeing the spark of goodness that is often hidden is very important. It is in everyone, no matter how many layers of darkness we try to use to hide it. And thus, everyone is worthy of Love, no matter how they appear. They need do nothing, it is unconditional. It just "IS."

Never fear anyone, even if they may take your physical body as they cannot harm your soul. However, never surrender your personal will to anyone either, as in doing so you do not own your authority to surrender within. The journey is not long, once you go in the correct direction.

Psiguy's picture

Kind and compassionate, absolutely. Sometimes the greatest kindness is to help a person find their own strength rather than giving them mine.

Tharpa Pema's picture

I see much fear, anger, and blame in these posts. I relate intimately to these feelings. So many of us seem to think we know THE answer-- it's got to be so-and-so's or some factor's fault! I suggest we could benefit by each spending a little more energy focusing on our own afflicted emotions as a causal factor in our own and other people's suffering.

wilnerj's picture

What answers could I possibly have? But one empirical fact stares at me and that is the worth of the U.S. dollar today compared with 1970. Why has our currency been in a continual or near continual state of decline? And perhaps this is an important but all to often ignored factor in the growing immiseration of the population and the growing disparity in wealth and income. Unfortunately no answer here but a clue to that which we can tackle.

namo buddhaya
__/|\__

n.cuccia's picture

I am sorry to say that what you express is the biggest reason Buddhist and the path to enlightenment is criticized as a movement to turn our backs on society as a deterministic interpretation of one's socio-economic role in society. Do we withdraw, as you suggest, or is it our responsibility to mankind in general to attempt to lift and embrace all our brothers and sisters? I choose the later.

william allred's picture

We the simple, with only means but to feed and clothe ourselves(owing to simple means and ways) can imagine the suffering of another's hunger, nakedness and ill-health of mind and body. But to abandon a right view of life as temporal and immersed in suffering from attachments, and adopt political and economic solutions is not effective, as we lack influence and means. We cannot heal the minds and views of others, we may only live as an example and lead by living simply. Adopting the ways of the world of wealth and material attachments, as a cure for the ills of society, is to adopt FDR and Lyndon Johnson as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; such is not the reality of our lineage or view. Those who take pains to solve the ills of the many, by the means through which these problems arose, delude themselves and wander astray from the Middle path. There is a sense that to advocate such is to wish to define the Middle path as a fence straddling realm, where one can have their cake and give away that which the gov't stole from others.

wilnerj's picture

This focus on the self is not necessarily opposed to uplifting our fellow sentient beings. The work on one's self is simultaneously the endeavor to help others. We are not atoms bouncing about in a vacuum.

william allred's picture

In point of fact, we are just that; on this point Buddha and Einstein concur.

Psiguy's picture

We are beyond the atoms. We are what moves the atoms that exist within us. The big question is "Who are we?

The answer to that question lies in many layers of redefined perceptions as our awareness grows. It's a never ending growth of awareness way beyond the physical body. At some point the realization becomes merely, "I am that I am."

wilnerj's picture

But the proclamation of "I am that I am," merely begs the question. :)
That is to say that, we return to the question of who we are.

namo buddhaya
__/|\__

Psiguy's picture

And that my friend is the never ending journey. However we ask that question at successively higher levels of awareness. At each level we first think "We have made it." Only to find that there are many levels still beyond us. It is a humbling journey as the more you grow the more you realize how small we are.

As you move beyond the physical further you lose that by which you are defined. You become beyond particles of atoms, you merely are what you are, what ever that is! You become that which is beyond description in words.

Psiguy's picture

Lifting and embracing is great. Holding one up all the time harms both them and yourself.

Tharpa Pema's picture

For me there is a lot of middle ground, a '"Middle Way," between focusing on my inner work exclusively and focusing on other people's faults exclusively.

What I am suggesting is a better balance. I strongly advocate social and political activism. I think its success rate would improve if we verbalized more attention to the interior work we all must do, which unites us all.

I think the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of harsh speech.

Dominic Gomez's picture

America seems fit for a Mahayana Buddhist activism. A middle way in which enlightened folks use wisdom to re-direct the future. As a matter of course this entails working with both public and private systems of sustainable social health maintenance.

wilnerj's picture

Don't forget Therevada :)

As redacted:
"America seems fit for a Buddhist activism." :)

Yes individual focus and societal concern are not contradictory. However one can be swept up into the wave for changing things doing battle against opponents to change.

william allred's picture

Sustainable health maintenance, No decay, no disease, no death? No toxins, no harm to self or others, no intoxicants or excess, no meat, no hateful sentiments and vitriol in the bowels...there. As good as it gets.
As far as redirecting a future which will never arrive, from the present which has enough cares of it's own...this will require an extensive set of Feynman diagrams...
Public and private systems require wealth and capital to acquire the means to become systemic...the principle systemic problem, and cause of poverty of mind, and body, is Capitalism...again, the cure is only the disease where death is the sole instrument of the physician...and in fact, it is.

wilnerj's picture

Once upon a time, employers could afford to carry the burden of health insurance. The predominant form in many places was Blue Cross and Blue Shield packaged together with Major Medical including, of course, its deductibles. Today employers in many instances cannot foot the bill alone and individuals cannot afford the monthly premiums, hence the Affordable Care Act. What contributed to this astronomical rise in health insurance premiums? It certainly was not simply the rise in malpractice court cases and therefore increasing cost of malpractice insurance. It certainly has not simply been the steady rise of prescription drugs and other pharmaceuticals to cover their R&D costs. And, it simply was not the increase in diagnostic testing and the use of expensive technology. The dollar today is not worth the same as the dollar back in 1970. This alone should tell us something about our economy.

Tharpa Pema's picture

i agree.

wilnerj's picture

Yes, and yes.

But the family cannot be without its support structure. Even a two-parent household is insufficient for raising children.

Psiguy's picture

Very well stated and I support your plea.

jackelope65's picture

In the middle of medical school, married with three small children, with poor families, some support from the GI Bill post Vietnam, I ruptured a brain aneurysm, required 3 months of bed rest, 2 brain surgeries, lost 53 pounds, mostly muscle, and had to be carried upstairs to bed because I was so weak. Yes I needed Medicaid, disability support, and great help from my beloved classmates and family, but I did graduate and was first in the nation in my residency board exams. There are some people who can and will abuse any system, but tragedies are more common than believed and can happen to anyone. I spent my career helping the acutely disabled through the recovery phase and personally witnessed the tears of frustration and joy as people struggled through milestones, para and quadriplegics, the head injured, burned, fractured amputated, harmed in ways so difficult to imagine. These people were not free loaders; they struggled just to sit up, stay awake, say a word, take a step. Thanks to Right Wing STINGINESS, I had to spend hours to justify treatment, medication, and equipment. I often would spend over an hour with a patient just to have Medicaid pay me less than my overhead. But I remembered my needs in my time of struggle and the kindness shown to me by individuals as well as the greater whole trying to maintain support systems for those in need, though limited by the right. We need policies and programs to support the needy, but often the caring of individuals, who will not give up on you during the battles, to help each person suffering to get through each and every day. I often hear those privileged individuals, speaking up high on their "bully pulpits" not having suffered one day of life through rank and privilege, as if they actually know the true struggles of the poor, the chronically and acutely disabled, and elderly. Karma, cause and effect is a real bitch and what goes around will eventually come around with no escape from impermanence and death.

testingwithfire's picture

My dad was officially diagnosed with lupus during his service in the South Pacific in WWII. As I found out much later, he was not the only American to come back from the Pacific front with that diagnosis, which is quite unusual for white American men. Lupus is a disease for which some people are genetically predisposed but that may never emerge unless an outside factor like physical or emotional stress brings it on.

When I was three years old, the disease took a drastic turn for the worse and his doctor recommended that he retire from his civil service job, which he'd held for many years after WWII ended. So he applied for service-related disability. He had a wife and young child to support.

The VA denied him service-related disability benefits at first. They apparently didn't know my dad very well. He fought for the benefits all the way up to an administrative hearing at the VA offices in Washington. The trip down there was a real hardship on him - they were probably thinking he couldn't do it and that the denial would stand - but physically he had a lot of reserve strength despite the disease. Eventually he prevailed. He died of a lupus-connected condition in the early eighties.

If we'd had to rely on the puny income that my mom could have made working full-time as a secretary in the late sixties and early seventies, our family would have been materially much worse off than we were. We probably would have had to apply for those OTHER government benefits which so many people think are the sole province of the lazy and conniving.

So whenever anyone poo-poos government benefits and recommends that people look to charity instead, I think of how my life would have turned out had my dad not been able to secure the benefits that were due him by law. It's not that money is everything, but having reliable government benefits certainly saved our little family quite a bit of suffering.

Psiguy's picture

What does Buddhism say about suffering. Are we to embrace suffering or shove it away?

william allred's picture

Suffering? Shove it or hug it? Neither. Suffering exists and there is a way to end it. Embracing that which exists only in the mind, as a reaction to conditions and perceptions, is neurotic. There is no inherent reality to suffering, just dissatisfaction: with the dollar and what it will buy; death, and the fact that all households experience it; poverty, as Jesus said 'the poor will always be with us". So let them be what they are, "If a man asks for your cloak, give him also your shoes". If he asks nothing of you, allow him some dignity, and free will; teach him a clearer vision of what-is, or, learn from him.

Psiguy's picture

Thank you for sharing.

I too climbed the ladder from absolute poverty to the pinnacle of success. Upon finding success empty, I was blessed by poverty again. Only then did I truly find meaning and purpose in life.

You are obviously working from a position of compassion for mankind and gratitude for what you have been given. Two very important ingredients necessary for your spiritual growth. You are providing priceless services for people who cannot afford your care. My question to you is: Does the current system of government run medical care provide services for which the recipient is grateful, or do they feel entitled to the services.

It is very difficult for me to allow someone to reach the depths of despair necessary to guide a person to surrender within rather than to me or a government system. One path provides growth, the other shackles the soul. Some of my work is with stage 4 cancer patients during the final phase of life, teaching them how to Love and embrace inner truth. Remember, it's about soul growth and even death is a learning experience for the soul. Life is precious as it provides the stage for the soul to experience and grow. If I heal someone to delay the inevitable progression of the cycles, it is done so that they are guided to connect to the source within themselves that actually did the healing.

When we allow the government to set a price on the priceless and diminish the experience of compassion and gratitude between the giver and receiver, we are surrendering our authority to the government who holds a rod of iron over us rather than allowing the soul the necessary growth experience.

As Nelson Mandela said to Juan Williams during an interview after he was released from prison: Juan: How did you survive twenty seven years in prison? Nelson replied: "They shackled my body, but they could not shackle my soul!" Freedom is a necessary ingredient for non-attachment.

True poverty is not from lack of food or physical resources, it is from lack of food for the soul.