I spent Thursday in the Democrats’ booth at the Twin Falls County Fair. Armed with my newly printed cards proclaiming myself as a writer, I attempted to engage people about what they thought government should do in Idaho. I had an enjoyable but not exceptional time because people who disagreed with me preferred to refrain from discourse.
One general theme I did hear was anger about “people who live off the taxpayer and don’t work.” I understand that position. However, it says too little about the social safety net and why it is there.
Work is a complex subject, but one of my life axioms is that all people need work in their life as much as they need food and water. Even during childhood, our job is to explore and learn. Engaging our world is what humans do.
Work is putting forth effort toward a goal and is hardwired into our brain. The psychologist Maslow pointed to a hierarchy of needs for humans, and it did not end with a state of having no goals in life. In fact, people who seem adrift at the end of life are said to have lost the will to live.
We have a common idea that work is less pleasant than entertainment, but they really are the same thing. Entertainment is just work that we love doing. I know lots of people who finish chores in their garden feeling renewed. I feel sore, dirty, and satisfied only with accomplishment. We all have a balance in our lives of work-work and entertaining-work.
Work also produces the funding for the goals of our life. The hope of achieving goals that require funding keeps us working for money, but it is not the basic reason we work.
The social safety net keeps people hoping. Hope produces goals. Unwelcome changes in life make previously set goals harder to reach or unattainable. Disability, losing a job, retirement, especially from a job you can no longer do physically or mentally, can quash hope. Being told that you aren’t good enough because … quashes hope.
Yes, some people have resorted to better living through chemistry. Some have accepted getting through the day as their goal in life. These solutions lead to less hope. Some people may use the safety net to fund this life, but I doubt that most of them do. There is too much theft, too many payday lenders and pawn shops for me to believe that there isn’t an off-the-grid economy that sustains a kind of minimal life in Idaho.
Yes, many people who are using some type of government help to prop up their life have things that seem like luxuries. Many of those things are from “before” are purchased at thrift stores or garage sales, bartered or gained by selling other items. Yes, there are tobacco products or alcohol, but they both fall into another category of problem. Cable TV, the internet, cellphones (limited, inexpensive plans), and especially a car are all necessities of life with any quality these days.
Work is not something people use the safety net to avoid, but there is a problem of finding hopeful work. I know of no welfare program that encourages sloth. But I do know people who need the kindness of strangers to begin to prosper. If Idaho’s safety net is inadequate, let’s fix it. Humans need work to fulfill their lives, and denying the need some have for assistance is turning our back on the commandment to be our brother’s keeper.