Recently I returned from vacationing in Phoenix Arizona. One of the aspects of travel I enjoy is the opportunity to witness other human beings - how they live, what they think, and how they perceive their world. One of my favourite activities is to read the Letters To The Editor of the local newspaper. My journey to Phoenix was no exception. Each day I faithfully scanned the Arizona Republic for the opinions and perspectives of those who reside there.
The opinions as expressed on Tuesday, December 14th were especially engaging. The topics of the day included a broad spectrum of issues including the financial crisis, illegal immigration, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the complexities of the evolving medical system in the United States affectionately known as Obamacare. While the opinions and ideas expressed were similar to those expressed in countless newspapers throughout the country, this particular edition was interesting in how effectively it crystallized the dilemma we face in the world today.
The first letter complimented the newspaper on their recent efforts to explain the challenges presented by the mass immigration of Mexicans into Arizona. The author expressed his appreciation for the comprehensiveness of the paper's review of the issue and then offered his own opinion on how we ought to proceed. He stated -
"As long as there are hungry people in this world, and as long as there exist great disparities in the standards of living in neighboring countries, there will be immigration issues. Until we as a world address issues of poverty and starvation, all the border patrols and fences and policemen will not stem the flow." The author concluded with the statement - "I only wish our politicians would work on making this country and the world a better place for all to live."
The final letter to the editor that day presented a very different point of view. This author, while speaking specifically to the question of whether the government ought to fund body-organ transplants, was emphatic on the role of government and what it ought to do and not do. This author was of the conviction that governments have no role in improving the welfare of its citizens. He argued -
"Using the government to force people to pay taxes for the use of other people is theft. This includes using tax funds for body-organ transplants, food stamps, public schools, public libraries, Social Security, Medicare, etc. " The author concluded with reminding readers of the 8th Commandment - "Thou shalt not steal."
These authors typify the challenges and choices that confront each and every one of us today. It is not just governments that must decide how to address matters as immigration, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and health care. Each of us will need to make a decision on how we will proceed as a community of beings. Our world is no longer separate and distinct entities though our size and distance and our arbitrary labels as distinct nations gave us the illusion of being separate. The truth is that what we choose, how we live, and what we believe sends out ripples that impact the planet and all who live here.
We no longer have the option to act as if our actions and choices are independent from others. We no longer have the option to avoid making choices. It is now apparent that each of our decisions has global consequences both now and in the future. The choices we make today, the products we buy, the foods we eat, the decisions we make with regards to immigration, war, health care and homelessness have real and lasting impact. It has become abundantly clear that "what we sow, we reap".
My own belief is that we need to adopt an attitude similar to that expressed by the author of the first letter. We need to think about how to make the world a better place for everyone. We need to think about the health of all citizens, not just our friends, families or nation. We need to consider all species as brothers and sisters, not just our culture, clan, or local community. We need to embrace our role and responsibility as "our brother's keeper".
Until recently a goal in the disability community was to increase the independence of people with a disability. We now know that independence is not the goal, rather it is interdependence. It is our relationships, not our personal skills or assets that make us happy, healthy, and safe. It is not the survival of the fittest but rather the survival of the community that needs to be addressed.
As we enter 2011 it is time to consider and choose - who will I be this year?
May we choose peace, joy, and good will for all men.