Gratitude vs Entitlement-Battle for the Soul
Why Social Programs Fail
I've been struggling with a thought that finally came into focus at church a couple weeks ago. It is the political season and the big issues of the day are about being able to afford the money our government is borrowing and going broke because the government is spending too much money etc.
I realize this is kind of a philosophical issue but having worked for the Government, I know it to be terribly inefficient in delivering on anything it touches. I'm not going to waste your time, we all know the stories. The issue I've struggled with is the social side of governments caring for those who lack resources.
Argument For Extensive Government Supporting the Poor
There are those who believe that governments should provide for those who do not have enough. That is a genuine and legitimate opinion. After all the US is the richest country in the world. We have no excuse for having anyone go without food.
Why can't a country with so many resources not be able to care for their poor? Though I disagree with the size and scope of what is done by governments, it is a legitimate point of view and I understand the sentiment. After all, I am lucky enough to have something so why shouldn't some of our taxes go to those who don't have enough?
Argument Against Extensive Support for the Poor
The critics of using the federal government to perform this service argue we can't afford it, or the government is inefficient at delivering goods and services. All reasonable arguments again but there is something lacking in terns of the personal well being of the soul. Making a financial argument about the health an welfare of a person in genuine need seems cold.
We all want to help people. I guess we just differ on where the line is between "helping" and creating dependency and how best to deliver these services. Arguing it could be more efficient done this way or that way seems a tad callous though it may have merit. Like I said, I struggle with this conflict.
Brief Overview of Government Entitlement Programs
Let's back up a bit to define how things currently work. Just about every government program designed to help the poor works the same way. You meet certain criteria and you are entitled to the benefit. That is it. In fact in the name of efficiency, the government works very hard to streamline things as best as they can. For instance food stamps are now just given via a debit card, called an EBT card for Electronics Benefits Transfer card. Approximate 1 in 8 Americans are on the food stamp program.
The process is highly impersonal and often filled with lots of bureaucratic paperwork, waiting in lines etc. But if you make it through the process, you get your subsidy because you qualify. Once you qualify, everything just comes to them on auto pilot. Programs differ and sometimes you have to reapply or fill out occasional paperwork but it is nothing like the first time. Basically, it is worth the suffering even if it is impersonal because if you endure, you get the benefits.
Problem is there is lots of fraud. A recent study of entitlement usage in California, they found people using some of these cards or similar entitlements on cruise ships and at other vacation getaways. Not how the program was intended.
The Conditioning of Entitlements
My revelation came with regard to what entitlements do to both the giver and the receiver and the dependence on who and how the gifts are given.
Let me explain, in short, when the government just gives people something because they meet certain qualifications, people get conditioned to feel entitled. Once they get that feeling and they get used to having that safety net, they become afraid of anyone or anything that might take it away. In some ways I don't blame them. If you are hungry and someone even poses a minor threat to take away your food, I could see how you would be scared.
Over the last 50 years, millions and millions of people have benefited from these programs and have also become dependent on them as well. The entitlement emotion is one of feeling that they deserve what they are getting and if threatened they feel afraid of what will happen with out that benefit. The emotions involved are "self preservation" based and loaded with fear.
The Local Solution - Volunteers & Charities
The alternative to big government is local charity and volunteerism. Prior to big national government programs, there were local solutions to these problems. In the depression era, soup kitchens started popping up to feed those in need. They were established locally by groups like churches, civic organizations and charities. Food and supplies were distributed by neighbors who volunteered and understood the needs of the local community.
There are similar type free meal services today, though their numbers are fewer. Most are run by similar volunteer, civic or religious institutions. The ones I am familiar with, have no paperwork to fill out or qualifications to meet. If you come and want to be fed, you are fed.
Kindness Begets Gratitude which Begets Kindness in Return
Many people were fed this way. They relied on these volunteers and the good deeds of others. Now let me ask you something, when someone volunteers and does a good deed for your benefit how do you react?
This is where the magic happens. Kind of like when the Grinch's heart grew. You are thankful, you feel a sense of gratitude, you feel like you wish you could repay the favor somehow. It lifts you up to want to do something nice for someone in return. This sense of gratitude and desire to respond in kind is inbred in the human condition and feeds the soul.
Gratitude vs Entitlement
Now which emotion is better for society? Entitlement or gratitude. In one solution, people expect to be given things as a birthright and because of their situation. They have been taught this mentality by the system. Whether intentional or not, there can be no doubt there are millions who feel this way. Who can really blame them.
Contrast that with volunteers who donate time and resources to help someone out. If you have ever done this kind of work you know that it is both heart wrenching and rewarding at the same time. As a person you wish you could do more. But also, the people who you help know that you are doing this not because of a paycheck but because of kindness.
Whether people acknowledge it or not we all have a noble side to us. We want to do better and give back. Even those who have little in the way of worldly goods have this human emotion. It is within all of us. An act of kindness to a strange makes us feel good.
Which is Better for Society?
So which of these is better for society? People I'll leave that to the reader to make their own decision. For me, a world where neighbors and local services work together to meet the needs of their own community seems a much better solution. Maybe since governments are strained for resources, some of this should be turned back over to local communities. Seems like a logical conclusion....
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