Recently a friend asked why his hard-earned dollars should be taken from him to support people in our society who have made irresponsible decisions. That’s a fair question, and it deserves a response.
It’s hard to know which response to give – there are so many, and they’re all valid.
Enlightened self-interest? Nobody lives in a vacuum. The choices we make ripple out to rock boats in directions we never considered. Leaving someone adrift because he or she made a bad decision doesn’t just strand that person, affects their whole circle. Which often includes children. Who will grow up worse for the wear if we as a people don’t pick up the slack left by the person making the bad choices. Which means they’re at a much higher risk for repeating those choices. And eventually those ripples are going to end up rocking your boat.
There but for the grace of God go I? Decisions we make in the spur of the moment sometimes have implications that come back to bite us down the road. Sometimes immediately, sometimes decades later. Not one of us makes the right decision all the time, but many of us are lucky enough to miss the worst of the consequences.
Do unto others? I don’t know of a single major faith – worldwide – that doesn’t include some variation on the Golden Rule. If I make bad decisions I certainly don’t want society to turn its back on me. So I support a social safety net to catch those who have made those bad decisions.
I could go on. The arguments are myriad. But the bottom line is that we all pay in a portion of our hard-earned dollars to support those who have made irresponsible decisions because it make this a better place to be. Because it’s the price of admission, the dues you pay to live in a place that doesn’t suck.
Imagine what America looks like if we don’t take care of each other. If we just let charities fill the gaps and pocket the difference. I’ll tell you what it looks like. It looks like every society that has gone before. The haves get more and the have-nots find themselves without hope. And I find that unacceptable.
Does any of that change the mind of any of my friends with whom I’ve had the discussion over the years? Maybe. Probably not. But it reminds me of the reasons why I believe we – as a people – ought to be taking better care of our neighbors who have screwed-up somewhere along the way. Just because it’s the right thing to do, that’s why.