Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Outsider

There is a village beside a river. The people came on the river and settled near where it emptied into the sea, where its delta made the soil rich. They were hearty, independent people who had families and farmed the fertile land. They shared a way of looking at life and their place in it. They worshiped the same god. They stayed to themselves, mostly, but if they saw someone on the road who needed help, they stopped and helped him. Their farms prospered and grew too large for the families to farm alone. Word spread that there was work in the fields and people came from other places and built shacks on the outskirts of town and hired on to plow and plant and bring in the harvest.

No one could remember a drought like the one that came. The river dried up to a trickle. The crops died. Families hunkered down and did the best they could. They planted small vegetable gardens and hunted game. Some moved away, but most had never known anywhere but the village. They stayed and prayed. The hired hands who lived on the edge of town had no work. The landowners would see the workers’ children outside their shanties, dirty and malnourished, and they felt bad for them. They wanted to help, and some did, but most weren’t sure they had enough for their own families. They avoided the shantytown and tried not to think about the suffering of the people they felt powerless to help.
One day a man from far away came to the village. He offered to help the poor families in the shanties. He could give them enough to keep them from dying. He offered little to the other villagers because they were not the ones with the greatest need, and he had no more to give. They would be okay, he said. The rains would return one day. He asked the people who were not starving to set up places where the poor could be helped. He said he would pay for almost all the cost of the places. He said the people who had been helping the poor for free would not have to do that anymore, so there would be that benefit to those of the village who were better off.
The leaders of the village did not like the man. They did not trust him. They thought he was there to influence the way they did things. They thought he would try to replace them as leaders. They told him they did not want his help. They told the people they should not trust him. They said he would undermine their way of life. They said he would take their money and give it to people who were too lazy to work.
“He’s not like us,” they said. “He does not worship our god. He wants us to be dependent on him. And when we are, he will take away our freedoms. It is better to let those in the shantytown die than to become his vassals. We did not ask them to come here. They can go back to where they came from. They are not our responsibility. Their deaths will not be on our heads. We must not give up our way of life for them.”
It rained a few days ago, but the river is still very low. The people are afraid it may never be the same again. They have come to blame the outsider for what is happening to them. They have told him he is not welcome in the village, and the children in the shantytown are dying.


  1. I love the parable sound to this story. It captures just the way things so often work -- or, fall apart. It's wonderful, and so sad, how divinity comes into it, not as true divinity, but as something possessed by people ("our god"), or touted as their identity. So interesting, this voice -- clearly part of this village, and yet a saddened, clear-eyed observer.

  2. Thank you, Harriet. That means a lot, coming from you.

    This post was my allegorical attempt to answer the question why 25 states have refused medicaid expansion despite the following facts (courtesy of the Kaiser Foundation): States must spend $8 billion to expand the program, but they save $18 billion in what they would have spent on uncompensated medical care (eg, ER visits by indigent patients); and in addition to the states actually making money on the program, the fed govt will spend $800 billion for the benefit of their poorest citizens. In states that don't participate, their citizens will nevertheless continue paying the federal taxes that will go to benefit the states that do. The decision not to participate seems so willfully ignorant that I figure it has to have some primitive base brain roots, and my blog post was my amateur psychologist attempt to get at those.

  3. Spend 8 billion, but save 18 billion? Who could doubt that modest claim?

  4. Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.