This Is Not About Politics

40994_1565421505908_6019750_nNot too long ago I was at dinner on a business trip, sitting beside a man that I work with a lot, who is smart and does a good job and answers my hundreds of detailed questions with as much clarity as he can. He’s a nice guy, pleasant to be around, polite, funny. We’re going to call him Dave. I don’t remember exactly how this came up, but Dave said, “I think every able-bodied person in the United States who wants a job can find one if they really want it.”

Out loud I said, “Really? You think so?” Inside I was saying something like “Oh, crap. Here we go.” Because the place where I work is, as a whole, pretty conservative, but I, on the other hand, am not. So a lot of times I get to be the card-carrying liberal at a table full of conservative white men. I have not been working at this place very long, which means a lot of people don’t know me well and probably assume that I am also conservative. Then they say things like what Dave said and expect me to say, “How insightful! I agree!” But I don’t. Because I am 40 and I don’t really care whether they like me or agree with me. I want them to know that there are logical arguments on both sides, so I tend to share my perspective politely. Generally that goes pretty well, and a lot of times we both learn something.

This particular conversation deteriorated, though, and fast. Eventually it lead to that ugly place it so often does, that is, to low-income people abusing public assistance. Dave believes in the ability of kids to “bootstrap” themselves out of the life they’ve been handed by all the broken adults who are supposed to be raising them. Dave told me that the age at which a child can decide that he is going to be successful, i.e, at which he can decide to overcome the hunger, the stress, the fear, the lack of support and the dangerous environment in which he is growing up is – get ready – 11 years old. If the kid doesn’t decide to be awesome by 11, according to Dave, he’s lost. I kind of lost it myself at this point, because while I agree that it is theoretically possible that a kid can make a decision like that, very rarely, if ever, can they do it without an almost impossible amount of help and support. Help from their parents, their family, their church, their school, their teacher, their bus driver, and yes, sometimes their government – SOMEBODY who cares enough to see that this child is hurting and needs a path forward. But remember that there are many, many kids who do not have a single Somebody. It is not realistic to expect a child without a Somebody to decide at the age of 11 to haul themselves up out of poverty. It’s not. And it is dangerously, tragically easy for a guy at a paid-for dinner on a paid-for business trip, a guy who has good health insurance and a great job, to point to a 10 year-old and say, “Better get moving, kid. You got a year.”

I made these points to Dave. The thing he said next was, “You know what? I don’t care. Fu@k ‘em. It’s natural selection.” I am going to pause for a moment to let that sink in.

I was a little stunned. This was no longer even in the realm of liberal vs. conservative. I truly do not care if someone has a different view on politics from mine. That is what democracy is about, people. Vote however you want. No, this felt very, very different. This felt like one human being with a lot telling another human being with nothing that he did not care. Just could not be bothered to worry about the struggle of another person to survive.

This conversation upset me, for what I hope are a lot of very obvious reasons. I ended up, yet again, being the “woman” at the table. The soft-hearted, naïve, organic-food-eating liberal woman at the table. Which made me so mad, because why am I the weirdo when Dave is out there walking around not caring about other people who are desperate and NEED OUR HELP? It is not naïve or soft or weak or liberal to feel compassion for another human being. It is right.

I began to look very carefully at myself, and I realized that I was doing exactly nothing to help. So I started this blog, hoping to inspire other people to quit expecting so much out of each other. Hoping that people would give each other a break, offer a hand instead of judgment or indifference. And I even figured out that this lack of judgment must, no matter how hard, extend to Dave himself. I signed up to volunteer at the food pantry with my family. We cleaned out our closets and donated everything we could. We donated money to the WIC voucher matching program at our farmers market.

And now I am starting to feel better. We are out there now, hoping and trying to find ways to be a Somebody. Dave, I’m sure, has no idea that I am over here still thinking about what he said. And that what I would say to him now is, “Guess what, Dave? Your indifference has run up against a wall of compassion. Look at what you’ve helped create. All this good is happening. All this love. IT IS HAPPENING, and you’re missing it.”

 

 

 

 

About Betsy Tucker

I am a 40-something mom, wife, reluctant lawyer and occasional farmer with a desire to convince everybody in the world to just be who they are and let everyone else do the same. We’ll see how it goes.

9 comments on “This Is Not About Politics

  1. Hi Betsy,

    I like your writing style and thought process. You have a good heart. It shines through in your writing. Looking forward to seeing more.

    I’ve been putting materials together to start my own blog about living in Madagascar. Nothing on the site yet.

    Cheers,

    John James

  2. This is my favorite P@P post yet. I can’t stop thinking about it, and the power of having a Somebody. I love the way you wrote about it. I love your response. I love that in trying to be a Somebody for Someone, you have the first inklings of compassion for Dave.

  3. No words my friend . Except that apathy towards others , combined with selfish entitlement is a bad mix . Having a lot of those moments lately where I listen to people and think ? Really ? Where am I right now . I get so scared for us compassionate souls who still are trying . Xxoo

  4. This one made me cry. My last year of teaching, I was an 8th grade ELA/SS teacher at a local gifted school. 2/3 of the students are from affluent families, while the other students are from the NOT good neighborhood where this school is located. Believe me when I say, there are really two schools going on, as the climate towards those students from the “hood” is to babysit them, keep them out of trouble, and pass them as quickly as possible. Those students were treated like “throw away babies” and that is the very reason I quit teaching because no matter how high up I continued to go, nobody gave a rat’s patoot about the fact that this was going on, as long as it was kept quiet. I became a teacher to help kids, ALL kids, and to be a “Somebody” for them if they needed it, no matter their situation.

    I’m over the Moon happy to see you lend your eloquent voice to this cause and then step up to the proverbial plate to offer something even more tangible, i.e. your time and donations. You are inspiring!

    Always,
    A.

  5. Wow! Very powerful post, perhaps because I have begun a deeper journey within myself. I agree with the previous comments on here, so nothing to add to that side of things. I was raised in a conservative, Catholic, New England family which seemed fraught with contradictions… I’m a divorced father of two kids who I have always treated as intelligent beings, able to make decisions. I still believe ALL kids are, they just need guidance.

    There’s no book on how to be a parent. There’s nothing which teaches you this other than experience. While I wish my father or mother would have discussed more things with me about life and taught me how to fail, it wasn’t in their skill set. They gave me a safe place to grow and all-in-all were good parents. Not all families have this- there are a miriad of possibilities. Kids NEED that safe place to fall into… I wish I could help, hug, hold, smile with every child in a non-safe place… teach them to laugh, teach them who THEY are and that THEY matter.

    The Dave’s of the world are missing out. By opening our own hearts to others, we get soooo much more in return… now to figure out, for me, how to get past that inner conservative and just do.

    Thank you for the words and for sharing your gift in putting them together!

    Mark (the C theme didn’t really fit on this comment)

  6. What Dave was describing is called “Social Darwinism.” I remember having a debate in high school about it vs. Christianity (Catholic school). Lovely term, isn’t it?

    I’m a 6th grade teacher in an urban public school district working with students who are for the most part either immigrants or disadvantaged, usually both. Intelligence will only get these kids so far. They, like most children, have impulse control issues and little self-discipline. Science tells us that their brains are nowhere near fully developed, and, with few exceptions, they are not fully capable of making decisions with the long term in mind. I often think that 90% of my job is to teach these students functional skills so that they might succeed, because I know that academic knowledge is nearly useless without them. To think that an eleven year old can “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” and overcome obstacles that are Mount Everests to them with little support amounts to nothing more than cognitive dissonance. Keep fighting the good fight, however you choose to do it.

    • Raffaella – you keep fighting the good fight, too. THANK YOU, on behalf of everyone (although not everyone realizes they should be thanking you…ahem..Dave), for working hard and thinking about how to help these kids. Pearl on. 🙂

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