Three friends and I were sitting on a street cafe patio on a sunny September afternoon when we were approached by a man with a cane panhandling. Not much older than myself, he operated slowly and deliberately, as if impeded by some physical disability. After he had petitioned each of us he moved away and began down the street, the few short steps to the next street side cafe. Watch, watch one of my companions said. The rest of us turned to see the man tuck his cane in his armpit, and walk freely with a newfound giddy-up in his hitch to the next patio, whereupon he re-employed the cane, slowed down to a crawl, and repeated the petitioning to his next customers.
“if we were to allow the episode to jade us, the real victim is the next person”
We chuckled among ourselves and made no more of it. However if there was a victim involved, it was not us. Rather, if we were to allow the episode to jade us, the real victim is the next person, perhaps in genuine need, who approaches us looking for a helping hand. If that were to happen, the man with the cane and fake limp didn’t rip us off, he ripped off the person in greater need. As I mulled the situation over, it struck me as a metaphor for our social safety net.
‘The government‘, to many of us, has become a detached entity unto itself. When we partake of services provided by ‘the government‘, we generally have buffered our conscious from a true understanding of where that money came from. The government of course, is us. When I use a service that is funded by taxes, I may appease my conscience by saying ‘I pay taxes too’, but the reality is that once those funds are appropriated to me and for my benefit, they are no longer available to someone in greater need, (and there is always someone in greater need). If the measure of society is how it treats it’s least advantaged members, we can do better. When we hear for example, the plight of families dealing with the added financial burden of raising an Autistic child, help ‘not being available’ has less to do with the availability of funds and more to do with the unfortunate fact that those facing this burden do not form a large enough voting block to affect change. The funds are available, but they are being used elsewhere, by people like you and I for things that we together have deemed more important than our neighbours plight. Yes we can raise taxes, and we do – annually. But the taxpayer is becoming jaded by ‘the man with the cane and fake limp’. All too often, that man is us.
“Yes it may be a drop in the bucket, but a bucket can be filled a drop at a time.”
If the saying is true that the best way to affect someone else’s behaviour is to change your own – then the solution begins with self accountability. When I stop thinking of services as being provided by the government, and start thinking of it as a service provided by my neighbour, perhaps I will be less likely to partake of that service. Yes it may be a drop in the bucket, but a bucket can be filled a drop at a time.
Thanks for reading,