A recurring mantra I hear from politicians vying for votes is the promise to make life easier for working families. There has emerged in our wealthy western civilization the political determination that easy is better and nobody will get ahead if any degree of difficulty is involved. At some point in our socially progressive society, we began a war on hard. Hard has become bad. We have embarked down the dangerous path of providing free daycare, free eye classes, free dental, free transportation, free housing, and even free internet. The remarkable benefits of modern society have morphed from being unprecedented privileges to inalienable rights. Having to use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without has become a hiss and a byword.
The Refiner’s Fire
I am not clear what is to be gained by ensuring that young families have more disposable income by giving them benefits funded by tax payers rather than counselling them do make do with what they have. The standard of self sufficiency is moving continually to the left as more and more extras become essentials. The refiner’s fire is being reduced into the refiner’s leg warmers. Necessity, which used to be the mother of invention, has become the evidence of a failed government safety net.
Hard, however, is good. Not just good, it is critical. Take away hard and you have ignorance, poverty, and dependence. After all, what exactly is the middle class suffering from financially? In North America, at least, I can clothe myself on $100/year but for many of us with outrageously high incomes compared to 99% of the world’s population, if the outfit does not have a recognized brand name and come smelling of formaldehyde, then it is only deserving of welfare recipients.
I can honestly say that I have only purchased one TV in my life and I paid about $150 for it. People throw them away all the time as they buy the latest and greatest so I always end up getting last years model for free. It may not be as amazing, but the reality is we just do not watch that much of it. We have never paid for cable or satellite TV and if the children wanted to be entertained, they played together or read a book. I have never purchased any household item on credit and have rarely purchased brand new because so often it just is not necessary. I am not saying buying new is bad, but for most people, buying the newest and the best has become a requirement rather than a reward. The means within which we need to live has grown from being income earned with blood sweat and tears to include inefficient government funded programs and handouts. We need to stop allowing people to live their lives however they wish without facing any consequences.
Stopping the Culture of Poverty
It is true that single moms with young children have it hard, but they are not dying. Not in Canada anyways. And the children do not stay young forever. The problem is not that there are single mothers with low incomes, the problem is children being raised in a culture of poverty and ending up single parents with no education and no work ethic. The easier a society makes it to be a single mother without marketable skills, the more single mothers there will be without marketable skills. The great social experiment of providing free housing to indigenous people on reserves is a glaring example of why handouts are bad. Very bad. We need to spend less time creating dependency, and more time providing long term tools to lead people out of poverty. We need to get people off the dole and into the work force. We need to identify those who are at most risk and provide a safe place for them to thrive rather than giving them a cheque without obligation or stewardship.
I have no doubt that there are many who need financial assistance. There are many who suffer from mental or physical disabilities. There are many who from no fault of their own are left incapable of being gainfully employed. I am filled with empathy and compassion for those who become ensnared by the curse of addiction, and I am aware of far too many children who have been abandoned by their fathers. On the other hand, I have seen far too many able bodied couples who go from job to job and suffer no real consequence for being lazy, dishonest, or incompetent because they can simply apply again and again for government benefits paid for people who are equally burdened but choose instead to conquer their demons and to move towards self sufficiency.
Too Great A Cost
Tax funded programs with the altruistic yet naive intention of redistributing wealth are profoundly expensive. But the cost is not just in tax dollars, it is the cost to the society that is paying people to have a sense of entitlement, to become dependent on the state, to fail to rise above and to embrace difficult and work out their independence with fear and trembling. Hard is what brought about the discovery of fire, agriculture, electricity, trains, and antibiotics. Hard preceded the formation of Microsoft, Ford Motor Company and Hyundai inc. Hard builds character, teaches discipline, and fosters self worth. The harder the task, the greater the soul can reach. Having to work two jobs, sit a table that was previously left on the curb for free pick up, and not being able to buy Christmas presents is not a depravity that should not be tolerated. If you have shoes on your feet and sufficient food in your belly and a roof over your head, then move forward. Turn off your x-box and learn a skill. Fill your moments with self improvement. Hard is not the enemy, it is a blessing beyond measure.
If you have abundance and know of someone who is struggling, there is nothing wrong with providing them furniture if you have it to spare and clothing so that they are not in rags. But once they have the basics, the best charity you can offer is to give them access to an education so that they can lift themselves out of poverty and ignorance. It is our responsibility as family members, friends, neighbours and fellow citizens to help those less fortunate them ourselves; we must not delegate this duty to the government. The further the receiver is from the source of their assistance, the more entitled they become. Just be cautious about trying to make life easier because often this gift does the opposite. There is nothing wrong with going without.
Elder Stanley Ellis, an emeritus member of the 70 of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint, who made had a career in law and finance as a chief executive officer of a financial consulting company, made the following observations:
In the world of nature, hard is part of the circle of life. It is hard for a baby chick to hatch out of that tough eggshell. But when someone tries to make it easier, the chick does not develop the strength necessary to live. In a similar way, the struggle of a butterfly to escape the cocoon strengthens it for the life it will live.
Through these examples, we see that hard is the constant! We all have challenges. The variable is our reaction to the hard.
Before this calling I was a financial consultant in Houston, Texas. Most of my work was with multimillionaires who owned their own businesses. Almost all of them had created their successful businesses from nothing through lots of hard work. The saddest thing for me was to hear some of them say that they wanted to make it easier for their children. They did not want their children to suffer as they had. In other words, they would deprive their children of the very thing that had made them successful.
By contrast, we know a family who took a different approach. The parents were inspired by J. C. Penney’s experience where his father told him when he turned eight years old that he was on his own financially. They came up with their own version: as their children graduated from high school, they were on their own financially—for further education (college, graduate school) and for their financial maintenance (truly self-reliant) (see D&C 83:4). Happily, the children reacted wisely. All of them are college graduates, and several also completed graduate school—all on their own. It wasn’t easy, but they did it. They did it with hard work and faith.
The Climb Is Theirs To Make
Let’s stop this war on hard. We are no longer living in the oppressive economic prison of Dickinson’s’ England. Humans are remarkably resilient. We need to foster resilience and not stifle it. We should give the have-not’s a leg up, but we should never take away the stairs they must climb. The climb is theirs to make. I climbed it and I am all the better for it.