I recently resigned from my library job because after six years, I still hadn’t been promoted, and I wasn’t earning a living wage. I felt that working for a county government provided some kind of stability – a pension fund after ten years in, and a pretty good health insurance and benefits package, relatively speaking – since every year the cost was going up and coverage decreasing proportionately. Being in the United States, what employers call benefits is a something that is always threatened with shrinkage and disappearance. This includes sick days, vacation days, health insurance benefits, and some type of retirement plan. I live in the state of Georgia, which is a “red state”. For those who live outside of the United States, this means that most people vote conservative or Republican. In general, members of the Republican party do not support worker rights such as the right to be a member of labor union, the right to have health care coverage, and the right to have rights at all as an employee. The state of Georgia calls itself a “right to work state”. What this means is that your employer can fire you at any time for no good reason at all, and conversely, you, as an employee, can quit on the spur of the moment without having to give an reason or notice.
When I was debating whether or not to leave my library job for a better paying job in another field of work, I spoke with a friend and patron of the library. She, and a few others as well, told me that the advantage of the right to work policy is that you don’t have to care, and that this can be liberating. This is something to really think about. At my new work place, we were sent a Power Point presentation about workplace ethics with a signature page on the last slide. After reading through the sermon about our responsibilities as employees and what ethical behavior is expected of us in a variety of situations, the signature page reminded us that our employer is a “right to work” employer, and that we can be fired at any time. The irony of this presented quite a dilemma to me, though none of my co-workers seemed to notice, used to it as they are to being disregarded as human beings and workers. Basically, in the United States of America, it is a fact of life that as a member of human society, you have few rights. If you are a member of a minority group you have even fewer rights. Even though American society is highly litigious, basically the social contract here is extremely tenuous.
I personally do not find it very liberating that I don’t have to care about my employer…or that they don’t have to care about my well-being, my sense of financial security. I don’t find it liberating to not to have to make commitments and that other Americans don’t generally feel the need to commit – to their employees, friends, spouses or companions, neighbors and communities. While some people are committed individuals, this state of heart and mind is becoming rare. Violence and social chaos is spreading, yet I can’t hear anyone wondering why. We talk about increasing legislation for gun purchase and ownership, and while that is indeed a very good thing, why aren’t we talking about the need to give people rights and corresponding responsibilities? Why aren’t we teaching children civics, how to behave in public, good manners, how to know and respect themselves and others? Don’t we collectively notice how stressful it is to live in America?
Conservatives in America are highly supported, and they spread a lot of misinformation about what it means to be community minded. Many who call themselves Libertarians (Tea Party) believe they need no one else to support them. Do they ever wonder who has provided the infrastructures we all enjoy such as road systems, clean water, sewage systems, plumbing, electricity, food? If they were living alone in the wilderness and hunting for their own food, making their own clothing, and building their own shelters, I could possibly understand the desire to live without a social contract. In fact, Libertarians seem rather selfish and hypocritical to me. They reap the benefits of collective life, but they don’t want to contribute to the upkeep of these infrastructures or to help others who may be less educated or less fortunate than themselves.
The truth is that many Americans work hard – long hours at low paying jobs with no benefits. Millions of Americans work 60 -90 hours a week but still cannot afford food, lodging, or healthcare. Conservatives constantly condemn the American people as being lazy, and if people finally dare to speak up and to ask for help, for fair wages, for health benefits, they are criticized and threatened with redundancy. It is a common misconception that Republican conservatives spread that people suffering from low wages and poverty in America are lazy. For the most part, nothing could be less true. The majority of Americans are hard-working and stoic. People give their lives and energy to companies and are treated as less than nothing – as easily replaceable commodities, and not as human beings.
Conservatives supposedly support traditions and the family and Christian values, but in fact they are anything but traditionally inclined, and I don’t see any compassion or enlightenment in their thinking. They don’t seem to care about educating all children, providing everyone with good healthcare, nor do they show respect for our elders or struggling single parent families, which make up the majority of families today. Shouldn’t Christians be stewards of the land and servants of their people, working for their best interest? I am not a Christian, but I think I understand that the basic tenets of Christianity are showing love and compassion for others, no matter what status the person holds in society. The truth is that tradition means respecting our Earth and living in balance, using the wisdom acquired over thousands of years by our ancestors, measuring growth by what is in the best interest of society as a whole. There is no wisdom in conservative political debates or policy making. How can they justify what they call a “right to work” state? What are the benefits of this policy? Whom does it truly benefit?
After living in France for many years, I can tell you that every job is guaranteed by a written contract, whether it be for two weeks or twenty years, and whether you are flipping burgers for McDonald’s or a high level engineer or executive. As an employee, you have rights, and it is difficult for employers to fire you. American politicians are leery of giving workers such rights, because their top priority is profits, and they simply do not care about people and their lives. They don’t want people to be empowered or responsible citizens. They are not invested in building community and in expanding social stability, promoting public health (mental and physical), or that their workforce be loyal. Yet all of those things are traditional values. And indeed they are values which promote a stable and growing economy.
Smart countries invest in their people, young and old. America is not a country which values its people, which is a great shame, because we have a very diverse and beautiful array of people. The United States worships money and power, and these are the engines which drive our culture and economy. I have lived here 11 years since my return from France, and often my heart feels heavy with the awareness that those who lead this country simply do not care. As a human being, I need to lead a meaningful life. I think that all humans share the desire to be free, to express our innermost truth, and the need to fulfill our Sacred Contract – the reason for which we came to this Earth.
I don’t know why, at this point in history and in the evolution of humanity, I have been placed where I am, in Atlanta, GA, in the United States. Sometimes I feel very sad and frustrated at the state of affairs here. I hate to see how people are treated, how farm animals are abused, and how the land is mistreated. We have great human and natural resources here, but the potential is not even seen, because human potential is not valued. Our politicians and leaders do not seem to wonder why so many people in the United States suffer from depression and mental illness. Because our culture is one of scientific materialism, we treat depression, like all disease, with drugs. We rarely look within ourselves on a personal, and even less frequently, on a collective level, to see why people are suffering so much.
The bottom line is that people feel in the core of their being that they are not appreciated. We often feel isolated and alone. It is hard to find a true friend in America. Someone who will take the time to really get to know you and who is truly curious about what you think and how you feel. Human beings are creative and sensitive beings. We need to be loved and to give love. We all need to be valued and appreciated. We all crave a sense of belonging and security. Freedom and not caring are two very different states of mind and being. When our employers tell us that we are free not to care, I suspect that while many people have thickened their skins and numbed their souls, deep down, this does hurt and frighten us.
Caring is a responsibility, and it is not always easy to care. But the price of not caring is very high. Other countries, beware of using the American economy as a model. It is a dangerous model, and the price of imitation is not unlimited economic growth. It is in fact, economic and social disaster for the majority. While a few are making extraordinary profits off of a “talent” which allows them to not feel responsible for those they hurt and exploit, most Americans, our land, natural resources, and our animals are suffering. It is in our nature as human beings to love, to feel attachment, to create ties with others, to build community, and to create meaning.
I have read about the education reforms in countries such as Finland or Poland, and how these countries realize that their most valuable resource is their people. This is why they have chosen to invest in their children and their policies are grounded in the belief that by treating their people with the utmost care and respect, the result will be in a strong and united country. What other countries invest in their people first? Please share your stories and beliefs with me. I would love to learn more! In America, money and status come first, and this reversal of values is causing much suffering. It takes time to create social change, and if change is to have any depth, it takes awareness and will power. It is my hope that one day all countries will value people more than money, more than ideologies of any kind, more than religion. We are all connected, and love is the glue that holds all of life and being together. We live in a universe that is alive with intelligence, and all we need to do is live with a sense of love for self and all that is other, self-awareness, and personal responsibility.