I want to convince you that words have power and when spoken by someone in power, they hold even more.
I want to convince you that we are all in this together and when people suggest otherwise, it is for reasons that deflect humanity, humility, and the good in all of us.
I want to convince you.
I want to convince you that those who work minimum wage jobs are working several of them. They don’t see their kids often. They commute and take buses all day to clean homes and do repairs and pick up odd jobs to make ends meet. I want to convince you that if they receive public assistance, it is because they are desperate, not because they are lazy, but they have no other choice.
I want to convince you, but I already see you shaking your head, ready to skip to the comment section. I want to convince you to save your comments until the end.
There are always exceptions, those who take advantage of a hand-out, and these are the people we magnify like a microbe. “I found it, the bacteria in the petri dish and now it is all contaminated. We must throw it out.”
The exception to the rule is exactly that — the exception. The exception is not the whole, but a tiny portion that is exploited, blown up from an atom to a universe and gives us the authority not to care.
I want to convince you that the exception is ingrained in us, like a splinter we cannot remove, small, but painful, so distracting it appears to be the only thing that matters.
No proof to the contrary can extricate the concept we have of what it means to be poor. Poor is deserving. Poor carries blame. Poor carries shame. It is a photo we carry around in the wallet of our brain that we can always pull it out in any argument and say, “See, I told you!”
And you’re right. You told us. There was that exception. It was in your pocket all along.
“Somewhere along the way, they did something wrong. Somehow, they deserve where they are. I would have prevailed. I would have worked harder.”
You believe this to your core. I probably can’t convince you otherwise. But I want to.
I want to convince you that immigrants are jumping out of metaphoric burning buildings into America because it is life or death and you would do the same for your children. When they land, instead of giving them refuge, we lock up their children to teach them a lesson that jumping to safety is a punishable offense. They should have known better. Perhaps they should have learned to fly.
You see the photos but you feel nothing. A tug of empathy maybe. You say, “Poor kids,” but it is followed with, “Their parents put them in that situation. They would have grown up to be criminals anyway.”
It makes you feel better to think of them as potential criminals, not the babies they are. Now they are good, but later? Who knows? Pull the photo out of your wallet. They are not as innocent as they seem.
I want to convince you.
I want to convince you that life is insurmountable for some, especially for those with chronic illnesses who cannot afford health insurance and spend the majority of their life on the phone with insurance companies and pharmacies and doctors. I know this. I just want to convince you.
I know because my daughter has cystic fibrosis. I want to convince you that we cannot afford $250,000 a year in medical expenses, not because we are lazy, but because no one could afford this. I want to convince you that my daughter’s life has worth. I want to convince you that the majority of people who file for bankruptcy, do so because of medical bills.
I want to convince you, but you are more afraid of change than you are of people continuing to die.
I want to convince you that there are variables, a million moments that shape us like a sculptor, chiseling away, here and there and oops, too much off this spot, and oops, not enough off this one. And sometimes we are not in charge of our destiny, no matter how hard we work, no matter how hard we push on—there are circumstances out of our control.
If you haven’t experienced that, you are lucky. But you are not special. If you do not have a child with a chronic illness, or weren’t born on the other side of the border or poor, you were lucky. But you are not special.
I want to convince you that the callous words of our leader, the hate-filled rhetoric, his sarcastic and apathetic speech is affecting us all, giving light to the darkest parts of ourselves. We are in an abyss, but an abyss that is celebrated, as if the darkest parts were finally liberated, set free, a drudged up shipwreck from the bottom of the sea where we shout, “Arg, matey, make America great again!” We pretend that going back 200 years is a good thing, a relic to be celebrated, a cruel antiquity of value.
They laugh and scoff on the news. They tell the poor, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
These are platitudes that hold none of the complicated grays of mental illness, drug addiction, veterans, PTSD, chronic illness, the elderly living well beyond years for which they planned and medical conditions they cannot afford. It sounds like it is tough love, it sounds like the American dream, like a Western movie with John Wayne. Just buck up, buttercup. You snowflake. Stop being so soft. Stop caring.
I want to convince you to be soft and to care.
Snapshot of the welfare mom, snapshot of the man on disability who is out golfing, snapshot of the woman at the grocery using food stamps in designer jeans. These are not the whole. These are the few. But it is the only picture you see.
I want to convince you that while we obsess that the poor are taking advantage of us, the wealthiest have been doing that forever.
The Mr. Rogers, the Mother Theresas, the Gandhis the Schindlers, the Dr. Schweitzers were not naive for seeing the the best in people, even when working amongst the worst. They changed history; they changed us for the better. They did not give into times like this. They did not justify it. And despite being called unrealistic, soft, bleeding hearts, they consistently sided with those who were the least of us because they saw something. They saw that perhaps the least of us were also the best of us. They were not the exception, but the rule.
I want to convince you.
It is not naive to believe the best in people. It is best to believe the best in people.