Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Socialism and me

Many years ago I was approached as I entered a 7-11 store by a man who asked me for $5 so he could buy a sandwich. I was briefly conflicted as to whether or not to give it to him. After all, he could be genuinely hungry; or he could want money for booze, drugs, or any number of other things that I wasn't willing to provide. Almost parallel with that thought, however, I seized upon what I thought was the perfect solution. "Come into the 7-11 with me," I said, "and I'll buy you whatever you want to eat."

We entered the store and he followed me to the refrigerator section, where I began to look through the prepared sandwiches. If you've ever - even briefly - considered buying a sandwich at a 7-11, you know you'd have to be pretty darned hungry to pony up several dollars for anything they sell that's between two slices of bread. As I continued my search, the man spoke up: "Lady," he said, "these don't look so good and they ain't very big. For five dollars, I can go right next door to Subway and get a big sandwich that will fill me up. Plus, it will have stuff I like in it."

As I looked at him and realized the truth of what he said, I had one of those little arguments I have with myself sometimes. I had the five dollars; no problem there. If I gave it to him, maybe he would go next door and get a Subway, or maybe he'd buy a bottle of wine, cigarettes, beer, or even go down the street for his next fix. When the light bulb went on, I realized that if I chose to give him the money, then I was relinquishing control over how he spent it. So how far did my responsibility go? Should I trust him to use it as he said he would, or should I close my wallet, make my own purchases, and tell him he could either take my offer or not? Was maintaining control - and hanging on to a few dollars - more important to me than this man's dignity? I handed him the money, bought what I had come in for, and left. As I drove away, I saw him standing at the counter in Subway.

It's probably been twenty years since this happened, yet I recall it periodically, and find in it a lesson for myself.

Socialism derives from the word "social." "Social" is defined as pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations; seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation; of or pertaining to human society.

There's a lot of conversation today about fears that the US will evolve into a socialist form of government. The truth is, we're already partly socialist, and most people are happy to have it that way. What if you had to call - and pay - when you needed a police officer, a fireman, to utilize the services of a judge, or hire a jury? What if you had to pave your own road or personally care for the parks in your city?

We have, in this nation, a system of Social Security - everyone pays into it, everyone who lives long enough can collect from it. Currently, as you know, We, the People, own automakers and banks - although we're all hopeful that it won't be for too long!

Living in a society carries with it a responsibility to that society. Those who don't play nicely are usually punished - thieves, rapists, arsonists, murderers - and that punishment is frequently referred to as "paying a debt to society."

We pay taxes, Federal and State, for a myriad of services: a standing Army (Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard as well - not to mention our over-utilized National Guard!), a federal highway system, a functioning national transportation system, our precious national parks and forests, the safety of our food and our medication. Is it always perfect? No. Few systems are. But for the most part, the government does a good job and makes our lives easier without respect for income, race, status in life, gender, age, or sexual orientation.

In the Declaration of Independence, we find the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I think it's important to note the word among in that sentence. The signers of that Document didn't attempt to define all the unalienable rights that we have as humans, but to list what were to them the most important: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Throughout the history of this nation we have strived to achieve the lofty ideals of the Declaration. We've failed badly sometimes, but we've also had enormous success in areas.

Today, in the 21st century, we find that too many of our fellow Americans - our friends and neighbors, our family members, citizens of our cities, counties and states - our society - are falling woefully behind in being able to even dream of the American dream, much less actually achieve it. "We've earned our money, let us choose how to spend it," is our cry. We don't want to support more government programs, we will give where we want to give, not where the government wants us to. What a sad commentary on our way of life.

How can we know where the greatest need is? How can we make choices between supporting schools and keeping our highways safe? Between building prisons and providing healthcare for our Veterans? How can we decide who is worthy of our help and who isn't, and how can we monitor the donations we do make?

In the New Testament, we are told, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." We in this great nation have so much; even many of our poor are better off than what is considered middle class in other countries.And yet we are never satisfied; we always want more and we don't consider that we have a responsibility to our fellow members of this society called the United States.

I don't advocate for a socialist form of government whereby we cannot enjoy the fruits of our labors, or where we share equally in all earnings. But I do advocate for socialism in helping those who, for reasons we may or may not agree with, can't help themselves. I truly believe that caring for one another in ways big and small, can only make us better people.

The very last words in the Declaration of Independence are, "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." These were attested to by men who had much to lose and who yet stated that they would stand by and for each other as members of a common society.

I've started - and discarded - three drafts of this post before finally reaching this point. And I've researched word definitions and historical documents and recalled instances from my own life. But what it all boils down to is simply this:

Caring for our fellow human beings is just the right thing to do.


  1. Nice job, Cheryle! I was discussing health care issues with a friend the other day and when we touched on the topic of "public option" she just about jumped a foot with the proclamation, "Oh, we CAN'T allow socialized medicine!" When I asked her if that meant she wanted to cancel her Medicare she didn't know what to say. I think too many people are just afraid of "isms" because they are afraid somebody else will take control of their lives. They are afraid to accept (or recognize) that we all have to give up control of SOME things just to get along with each other in society. Anything else is chaos.

  2. I do agree - we need to remember that part of why we are here is to help one another and take care of each other. My only concern in an overly-controlled system of government (in my opinion, the term "socialism" has lost all relevance and meaning due to tons of misuse) is that the system could get too carried away with itself, taxing constituents to the point where they can no longer care for themselves, much less for others, and then everybody is relying on the government for a handout. This truly is my biggest fear, and I have no qualms admitting that I do want control of my life. Some of that fear stems from the fact that our government imposes higher income taxes on commissions in sales than it does a standard salary. This meant that Jason was really almost penalized as a result of doing a better job. This seems to me one of the starting points of a system that could easily get carried away.

    Does our society need implemented structure and order? Of course. Just not too much. And people who are blowing the whistle and crying "foul" should be heeded, not simply dismissed as is happening time and time again with this health care debate (in general, not specifically here). We really need a return to roots, where we as a society can agree by *vast* majority what limits need to be imposed on our government. Then we can all understand its true role, stop arguing among ourselves, and get back to the business of being a caring, productive society.