When I was in graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans, I had developed some pretty harsh beliefs. After studying about the welfare state and seeing how some people’s out-of-balance benevolence had created a kind of dependency on the less fortunate in our system, I became angry. I was concurrently learning about enabling behavior and how that could cripple those who were in the role of the “helpee.” In my field placement at a community mental health center, I observed directly some of the unintended effects that this practice had on a few underprivileged families. I saw how a few of these families had then subsequently learned to “play the system” and how their children, in complying with their parent’s manipulation, narrowed their future options. Again I became angry. I learned in social work theory that some of these people who supported the welfare program were called “benevolent individuals” or “BI’s” and this was not at all an endearing term.

I remember walking down Royal Street in the French Quarter, encountering a few crippled homeless persons who were asking for money and my rage at this system became channeled at them as I said, “you can get a job!” I can remember feeling righteous in reaction to their being perplexed. Everybody has seen people with extreme limitations performing Herculean tasks. How about the blind man who climbed Mount Everest? This sort of Story demonstrated the perseverance of the human spirit through adversity. In retrospect, in reaction to the aberration that this seeming benevolent practice elicited, I realize that I was becoming a functional conservative.

At this point in my personal development, I joined intensive group psychotherapy for many years. Having been a virtual atheist and a self-proclaimed pragmatist, I began to experience empathy to a degree that I had never experienced before in my life. I had always been a sensitive, compassionate child and young adult, but there clearly was an initiation that happened when I was with that very large community of people. Perhaps it was being very real with our vulnerabilities that made me realize we were all the same. The “old creepy man,” the “young spoiled child,” the disabled unfortunate woman,” each of us had the same frailties and yearnings that I had in life, and I realized that all anybody really wanted was to love and be loved and to feel connected to others. Seeing this was nothing short of a revelation in my life because at the same time I realized that perhaps this is what GOD really was. Perhaps this is what people had been experiencing what often seemed to me to be a reductionistic or manipulative concept. But in my being, I knew that this was my Truth. I felt an existential shift that was beyond my own personal story; it involved the story of humanity and its interconnectedness.

After this transformative and inexplicable experience, I revisited the issue of enabling behavior toward the disenfranchised. What I noticed was that my anger was gone. I still felt a responsibility to be judicious with generosity, but those who seemed less fortunate elicited much more compassion from me. My personal philosophy had become more progressive politically after this revelatory experience. When I try to understand the more individualistic philosophy of the conservative movement, I felt much more like what some people would call a socialist. I can appreciate the development of self-sufficiency and self-reliance in the personality, but to me that is a lesser level of the development. While a teenager, I believed that becoming self-reliant was my greatest aspiration. As I developed psychologically and spiritually, my newer goal became developing interdependence with others. This must not be confused with codependency, which can be fostered by a more limited and limiting mentality. Interdependence and then co-creation are both inclusive and empowering for everyone involved; they take things from an individual to a more collective perspective.

My political philosophies have transformed along with the other parts of my personality and, though I recoil from polarization in any direction, the description of progressive is not antithetical to my personal philosophy. Tempting as it is, I will not tread into that sticky territory of politics that is so charged at this time.

Having grown up in an affluent family, I had more options than many of the people in my community. As I matured, I didn’t understand how such inequities could be possible in a just world. As I matured further, I became more appreciative of the abundance that I was afforded. In my group psychotherapy community, I was able to come to terms with more of the subtleties of my seeming good fortune. As I watched my close friends struggling to afford intensive psychotherapy, I developed a respect for the values they demonstrated. I felt a sense of generosity and love to be able to pay full price for the benefits I derived, while my friends were offered reduced rates for the same services. I was happy to contribute more since I had been afforded more. It was pretty matter-of-fact to me, a no-brainer.

This is how I came to understand the tax system in America. People who have more and have had the benefit of greater opportunities can give back to the system, while people who are less fortunate can derive an equalizing benefit. If one chooses to play the system, that is their karma to work out, as it demonstrates a more desperate, unconscious level of awareness. Eventually, as they continue their work, they will likely become more generous. This is what socialism means to me. In my Facebook profile I described myself as a “commie pinko.” I offered this in a lighthearted way. I don’t really subscribe to communism. But my heart wants to do my fair share and, at times, that quantity had been greater than others’ fair shares. Now that I am totally disabled, I appreciate a meager disability income as well as medicare entitlements. Signing up for disability was not easy for me for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t want the label to limit my possibility for healing and secondly, I was not used to being the person in need. By the time I applied for disability, the disability was so advanced that the Social Security Administration didn’t even contest it. In my understanding, it was always disallowed up to three times.

In the spirit of “what one reaps one sows,” I like to believe that my development of generosity has allowed me to be taken care of by our federal community during my more frail years. I cannot imagine being a part of a compassionate community that would do otherwise. Civilization is supposed to be the most advanced stage of human social development and organization. I cannot imagine being a part of a civilized society at this point in my/our development that would not take care of its own.

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