Friday, December 4, 2009

Health Care – Something's Missing (Part 1)

In all the discussion about health care reform we've left out something important. The major discussion has been about cost and affordability. Less attention has been paid to the question of exactly what should be covered. Those are important of course. However there is one aspect of those plans that has been ignored: it's effect on the character of our citizens. If the reform becomes law, what will the citizen of tomorrow be like?

Let's consider the type of person who made this country what it is today. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, Jr. All those and more had one thing in common: they took thoughtful action. They did not sit around moaning that “somebody should do something.” They did not depend on government, charity, or their neighbors for their needs. Instead they invested their own time, energy, and resources in causes they believed in. That was often done at the risk of wealth, health, or even life. Where would we be without the country they created for us? More importantly, where will we be in 20 or 100 years if we fail to develop more such people today? And I am convinced that nanny state measures like the proposed “reforms” will militate against developing such heroes.

Our history is one of people who overcame obstacles, whether those obstacles were the British army, winters of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, Jim Crow laws, or scientific challenges. Sam Walter Foss expressed the poetic wish, “Bring me men to match my mountains, Bring me men to match my plains, Men with empires in their purpose, And new eras in their brains"* His wish has been granted by men and women who matched the mountains of war, bigotry, many diseases, science and technology, and other challenges our citizens have tackled. Many of those mountains remain challenging but those people gave us a good start. They did that by relying on themselves, not waiting for others to solve the problem.

Where will we get the Edisons, the Bartons, the Washingtons of the future? I fear that our developing nanny state will produce sheep-like excuses for humans (often called sheeple) who wait to be cared for when we should be producing men and women who stand up on their hind legs and take action.

That is one of the biggest problems with government-provided health care and other largesse. We cannot grow independence by fostering dependence. We cannot develop men and women of action by molly-coddling our citizens. No, the independent thinker, the person willing and able to advance both himself and his fellowman must be grown in the crucible of self-reliance and difficulty.

I recently read the book, Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. That book describes traits of survivors, people who overcame great odds to stay alive. Those are the same characteristics we need to meet other problems we face. Those same characteristics are required for people who would make a difference in our family, public, or business life. Those are people who act for themselves. If trapped in a mountain accident they take action to rescue themselves. If shipwrecked they take the lead in solving the problem. If stranded by aircraft or automotive problems they do all that is possible (and often more that we would think possible) to get themselves out of the problem.

Gonzales indicates that the main determinant of who lives and who dies is not what's in his pack. It's not even what's in his head. It is what is in his heart. This is what athletes often call guts. A team behind as time is running out is said to be facing a gut check, a chance to see if they can dig down and find that extra something that will pull out a victory. Those who survive near death experiences face a similar gut check. They have to dig down inside themselves and produce that extra effort to win against the Grim Reaper.

We face similar needs in every aspect of our lives. For example, consider the remaining bigotry in our country. The easy part of that battle was eliminating legal barriers. That is done. Now we face the task of changing minds and hearts, something we cannot legislate. We can sit back and wish, or we can say “somebody should do something,” but if that’s all we do we will make no further progress. However if we have the courage to confront the bigots, to befriend those others regard as inferior, we will continue to make progress. That may require that we risk alienation from friends, family, even employers when we speak up. We may even risk having our property vandalized or our persons harmed. It will take courage, and that courage must be developed by courageous action.

That is the same kind of courage that will allow a soldier to dig down inside for what he needs to fight a terrorist a little harder. It is the same kind of courage that will allow a government or business official to risk his job and expose corruption. It is the same kind of courage a parent needs to care for a disabled child or to discipline a child who is starting to engage in antisocial behavior. It is the courage, the guts, this country needs to preserve our freedom and continue to improve our lives. It is a courage that cannot be developed by asking government to meet all our needs.

(To be continued)

*Perhaps another danger sign is the fact that the beginning of that poem was once displayed on a granite wall at our Air Force Academy. It was removed in 2003 for fear of offending women, and that in spite of some female Air Force officers asking that the words remain in place. Can we really build on the foundation our fathers gave us if we are diverted by such trivialities? It is sad, even dangerous, that some prefer political correctness to such inspiring words.

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