Blog 2017

Keep Working, Millions on Welfare depend on You

‘Keep working, millions on welfare depend on you’.

I read that on a bumper sticker one, long ago.  I still see bumper stickers that say that from time to time.  I used to love that bumper sticker because I thought it was a rallying cry, a call to encouragement.  I read that and my takeaway from it was ‘you are helping to support millions of people who need help, who are trying to get back on their feet’.  It wouldn’t be until years and years later that I would understand that it was meant as a complaint.

I came to political awareness just before the 2000 election, as that was my first election where I was eligible to vote.  In the intervening years, I have come to be amazed at the political spectrum that exists.  This isn’t an anti-Trump post, or any of the like, so please don’t expect such things (this time).  This is merely an observation at human nature, and how two people can look at almost the exact same thing and see something very different.

To go forward with the welfare comment, it’s tax season here in the United States.  I love tax season.  I am proud to pay my taxes and don’t mind when my return is small (though owing still cramps my enthusiasm).  I like knowing that I contributed X amount of dollars to the national well-being.  I like knowing that this money paid for roads, emergency services, outreach programs, scholarships, and the like.  I don’t even mind the idea that my money might have paid for some senator’s fancy new office chair.  I have some issues with the perks and benefits given to congressional figures, but I also recognize that it is an extremely hard job, a lot harder than people realize.  I’m not too upset at the idea of them sitting in a nice seat all day.

There are three types of people in the world: informed, uninformed, and misinformed.  All hinge on the availability of facts, of data.  As a public health professional, I live and die by the purity and unassailability of raw data.  The uninformed can be made informed merely with the presentation of data.  The misinformed can be made informed by additional or corrected data…and a willingness to turn one’s paradigm based off new data.

Despite what some might say, facts are indisputable.  A fact is an observable, repeatable event, action, state, measurable characteristic.  In many ways, facts are those which can be expressed in numbers, or at least a binary state (‘did a thing happen, yes or no’).

Truth, on the other hand, is a wholly different matter.

Also despite what some might say, facts are not the end-all.  Truth is how we take facts and apply them, and use them.  Truth is the interpretation of data, and truth is the context in which facts exist.  Any person can be informed, but to interpret the facts into truth?  That takes training.  Whether that be real-world experience, scholastic and academic practice, or some combination therein, truth is how we look and interpret facts.

Truth can be explored.  Truth can be debated.  Truth SHOULD be debated.  No truth should be so unassailable that it cannot be set up for scrutiny, cannot be made (in the appropriate fashion) to justify and stand up for itself.  Any truth that refuses to submit itself to the rigors of evaluation is not a truth at all.  That isn’t to say intellectually mugging a person online to justify their beliefs, and their refusal to do so then and there, is somehow some justification that their stance is invalid.  But if wholesale avoidance of justification is sought, then it is likely indicative of something that is not true, and the believers likely know that.

An amazing reality about truth, however, is that one can see a thing to be true and not accept it.  How is that, you ask.  Because the truth in a thing is based on the interpretation.  If you can see the data, the facts, a person is using to make their decision and you can understand the thought process and priorities at play in how they make that decision, you can understand whether or not that thing is true.  If you cannot – or are not allowed – to see the facts and data being used, or if you can determine that a person’s process and priorities are inconsistent (perhaps even deliberately so), then you can see that something a person says or does is not true to them.

Our ability to coexist – whether it’s as a family, a neighborhood, a community, a county, a state, a country, a world – hinges on our ability to not only understand our truths but also to understand the truths of others, especially those we disagree with.  We can provide new data in the instances of the uninformed and misinformed, or we can help reconcile the decisions being made so that they are more in line with a person’s own processes and priorities.

But we cannot dictate those priorities.  We cannot tell one person what matters more or less to them, just because we feel it should.

I don’t value money.  I value opportunity and experiences and safety and security and cool stuff.  But money?  I’m surprisingly ambivalent to money (might come from twenty years as a writer).  I don’t care how big my paycheck is.  I care if my apartment is comfortable.  I care if my car runs.  I care if my fridge is full.  But the actual dollar amount means little to me.

I care about the apartments of others.  I want their apartments and homes to be comfortable.  I want their fridges to be full.  So I don’t mind the idea that my work facilities those things for them.  So when we look at the data, that part of my money goes to pay for the welfare programs of others, we can see too different interpretations.  Others might see my money going to other people who didn’t work for it.  I see my money going to other people who aren’t yet able to work for it.  I don’t see a problem with that.  Quite the opposite, I’m a little proud of that.

So despite it being meant as a complaint, whenever I see that bumper sticker, I take it to heart and smile.  It’s a deal.  I’ll keep working, because millions on welfare depend on me.  And they can depend on me.

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