|Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?|
But what should a parent do if a child who is no longer a child never quits making bad choices? Should we make up his bed in the spare bedroom? Should we drive him to detox? Should we pay for it? And does the answer depend not just on how much we care for him but also how hard we think he has been trying?
Those questions can be tough to answer when the reckless person is someone you love. What if you don’t even know her? Should you care if she drinks herself to death or abandons her children or lives on the street?
What made me start thinking about this (again) is an email debate I was copied on about whether it would be a good idea to make social security optional. The first question that jumped to my mind was: What do we do about the people who opt out and end up destitute? Do we just let them suffer? Tough luck, mate. You should have been wiser when you were young.
Sometimes it seems we are in the middle of another American Revolution. A surprisingly large number of people despise the government. They long, in Grover Norquist’s words, to shrink it down to the size that it can be drowned in the bathtub. They even call themselves the Tea Party.
Our last revolution (not counting that little squabble over slavery) was to rid ourselves of an exploitive monarch. This uprising feels more like we’re trying to toss out Mary Poppins. Instead of “No Taxation Without Representation,” the rallying cry is “No Nanny State.”
What would we do if we got our wish? Without all those tacky taxes, we’d all have more to spend on our favorite charity: ourselves. Then what? Some of us would be fine. Many would not. Are they just lazy and shiftless? Will they just be getting what they deserve?
The healthcare debate raises the same issue. We hate the mandate, but if we don’t all pay into the kitty there won’t be enough to take care of everyone. Is that okay? Is survival of the fittest really what we want?
So many young people love Ron Paul. That shouldn’t be a big surprise. They are breaking away from their parents. They are libertarians to their cores. They aren’t unkind, though. They help old ladies across the street. They wouldn’t ignore a plea for help from a man who had been stabbed and was bleeding on the sidewalk. What would we think of them if they would? That they were heartless and cruel. Maybe sociopaths. No one steps over a dying man and keeps on walking.
All over the world there are people who are starving and sick. Maybe we can’t help them all, but if we are to call ourselves a nation and have that mean anything it seems to me we must help our fellow countrymen. Does it matter how they came to their misery? How can we know whether they have made poor choices or just had bad luck? How can we know the life of another? We only know what we see, and when we see suffering, if we are to retain our humanity, mustn’t we act to relieve it?
We yearn to be free. Of parents. Of government. Of lovers sometimes. But, as Janice Joplin told us (in Kris Kristofferson’s words): Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. That’s about as nice a turn of phrase as I’ve ever heard. It’s wistful and sad, but it’s also inspirational. Without our ties to one another, there’s not much point to living.
And those ties don’t stop with friends and family, even if we’d like to think they do. They extend to those farthest away from us, to the weakest among us. We are all our own children. Sure, we may get frustrated with their bad behavior, disgusted even, but can we walk away from them? Do we want to be that free? Do we want to have nothing left to lose?