On the Culture of Dependency

“If you want to be a slave in life, then continue going around asking others to do for you. They will oblige, but you will find the price is your choices, your freedom, your life itself. They will do for you, and as a result you will be in bondage to them forever, having given your identity away for a paltry price. Then, and only then, you will be a nobody, a slave, because you yourself and nobody else made it so.”
― Terry Goodkind, The Pillars of Creation

“Whether it’s a Christian or a non-Christian, there’s nothing like suffering to show us how small, needy, and not in control we are. Suffering has a way of sobering us up to the realization that we can’t make it on our own, that we need help, that we’re broken.”
― Tullian Tchividjian

Last week I told the story of a middle-aged woman who had never caught a break in life.  Her knees were giving way on her and she did not see any way that she’d be able to support herself.  I tried to convince her to educate or train herself so that she could apply for a sedentary job.  She was unable to trust herself enough to undergo this much of a change in her life.

Unfortunately this is a common occurrence.  There are more than eight million people who receive disability benefits.  I don’t have access to raw statistics, but judging by the disabled patients I see in my office more than half of these people are alert, ambulatory, and able to take care of their daily needs without help.  More than three million people have been approved for disability since the 2008 recession.  The Social Security Administration has been forced to hire more judges and clerical staff to dispose of the caseload.

It’s very, very unlikely that we have been hit by an epidemic of destructive diseases in the past four years.  A more plausible explanation is that the criteria for who’s disabled have been relaxed.  When massive numbers of people were laid off during the recession many of them felt that obtaining disability was the only way that they could keep some form of health insurance (once the government says you’re disabled you obtain Medicare benefits, although there is a waiting period).  Illnesses that were bothersome but not crippling offered a gateway to being able to continue to see a doctor and obtain medication.

Much to the country’s detriment, our politicians have not been able to agree, and therefore act on, the causes of this problem (which is very serious: we are very close to the point where 50% of the population does not work.  This of course includes retired people and children besides the unemployed and the disabled).

Half of the politicians feel that poor education and/or training is to blame.  The other half believe that there’s a culture of dependency afoot in this land, and they equate financial need with moral weakness and irresponsibility.  Both sides have a point.

I’ll use myself as an example.  I was raised by two college professors who bombarded me with praise and knowledge almost from the day I was born.  By the time I was six I felt confident in my ability to master any subject that I was exposed to in school.  There was never any question in my mind that I’d be a professional, and achieving any less would have been met with dire consequences.

Now think of a young man who has ADHD.  He’s every bit as talented as I am, but he grows up in a single parent household.  Mom or dad works 2 1/2 jobs just to be able to pay the rent and buy some food.  He’s never read to; his tired parent often yells at him to shut up and go away if he behaves like a child’s supposed to behave.  His teachers in school have to deal with overcrowded classrooms and many children as needy as this boy is.  When his ADHD acts up he’s punished and made fun of.  The best he can do after high school, if he finds a way to graduate, is to find manual labor.  His back hurts on a daily basis; his foreman does not like him and accuses him of being lazy.  When the factory closes and the jobs go to China, he’s left without a job and with a lot of pain.  I forgot to mention: he probably has sired two or three children, all of them with ADHD, and he has divorced their mother(s).  They are very likely to repeat the story of his life, for generations to come.

Yes, we should not have children we cannot comfortably support.  Yes, we should always pay attention in school and do our best.  Yes, clearly there’s no way the country can continue to walk down this path: many other countries will do a better job of training their children and they’ll eat our lunch.  Yes, people should be in very, very bad shape before they ask their neighbors to support them for the rest of their lives.  I understand all of these arguments.

On the other hand…  I have seen so many people over the years whose lives have turned around because someone, somewhere has believed in them and given them a gentle shove.  And I have seen ten times as many people fall into a vortex that they cannot escape because plain and simple they just can’t see any way out, even if the exit is staring them in the face.

To me it’s clear that the answer is to invest on our children.  No expense should be spared in order to make sure that ALL of our children are warm and well fed.  That they are exposed to excellent schools by the age of two.  That they have easy access to the best technology and health care available.  That they will be placed in a safe home if their environment is dangerous for them.  Immediately.  That they have not one busy parent, but a whole village that looks out for them.

It will take a generation and truckloads of money, but it can be done.  We cannot call ourselves civilized if half of our kids are raised in fear, or ignorance, or neglect.

I hope our leaders can see it as clearly as I do.  What are our other choices?

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  1. Cordell Webb

    My wife has worked for 27 years for a local school district and has seen many problems at the local level and students home life. She worked in the food service dept. at the admin. center and monitored the free/reduced lunch programs. The adults would falsify the applications to qualify for a free ride. They would not even put a bowl of cereal out before the child went to school. On the other side, the districts want as many children on the program because that is one way they get money from the State. Children come to school with so much baggage, that expecting them learn is almost impossible. Also, the teachers have to deal with problems that parents should be taking care of. You heard of the cafeteria worker that was fired last week because she took sympathy on a small child whose parents did not speak English and had a problem filling out the forms for the lunch program. The food service department accused her of stealing. She did get her job back and I feel it was because of the out-cry of the public. It also seems that poverty just leads to another generation of poverty.
    Cordell Webb