It takes a village whether you like it or not.

It’s impossible to return from a place like Ethiopia, smack in the middle of a contentious election season, and not draw parallels and conclusions about how we take care of one another.

I’ve been thinking non-stop about a comment from Lynette on my last post, who asked Are there things you learned there that can be translated into helping mothers and children in the US who are struggling?

Oof, tough stuff.

Sene Mariam Women's Beekeeping Group, Ethiopia | c Liz Gumbinner

I wrote back, in part, about the “takes a village” mentality in Africa, which you may know comes from a Nigerian proverb.

I suppose what I see as the lesson is that we all have an obligation to look out for one another. In Africa, the communities and villages seem tight-knit. If a mother has to move to another country to support herself, she can leave her children with someone else. The Mary Joy center, which I wrote about on day one, is a place where a community of mothers (some childless mothers) look out for orphans as if they were their own, to keep them in the community and insure their growth, health and development. It’s also a culture in which even the poorest woman in a mud hut will invite you in for coffee.

We also met a women’s savings group in a rural village–14 women who each put aside about 5 birr a week, or $.25, so that should one woman need it, they have it to offer her.

Sene Mariam Women's Beekeeping Group, Ethiopia | c Liz Gumbinner

They soon parlayed this group into an actual work cooperative called the Sene Mariam Women’s Beekeeping Group. That’s jut what it sounds like; a revolutionary women-only business working to harvest and sell their own honey in order to support themselves–and one another.

Sene Mariam Women's Beekeeping Group | Photo ONE/Karen Walrond

Sene Mariam Women's Beekeeping Group | Photo ONE/Karen Walrond

Those yellow boxes are modern hives.

Sene Mariam Women's Beekeeping Group | Photo Liz Gumbinner

Some of the women work with their babies on their backs. Unless they’re around the bees!

Liz Gumbinner and Christine Koh in Ethiopia | Photo ONE/Karen Walrond

With Christine Koh–happy, if looking ridiculous

Sene Mariam Women's Beekeeping Group | Photo ONE/Karen Walrond

The program director; it is a seriously big deal to be a woman at that level


Their minimal start-up costs came in part from the US Feed the Future initiative, which demonstrates on the website rather clearly, the same thinking I learned from US AID last week: if we’re not all healthy and well-fed, we’re fucked.

(Okay, that’s not the actual language in the Feed the Future platform. Which is probably why I will never be allowed to write government platforms.)

And you know what? Programs like this are working. Because they truly, deeply care about one another.

Now my opinion may be biased by the kinds of remarkable people we met over the course of the trip, but I can’t imagine one person there cheering at the statement “let him die” regarding a sick person who can’t afford treatment.

I can’t imagine anyone sharing this idea floating around on message boards and the despicable online newspaper comment sections lately (seriously, stay far away) which essentially say “my life sucked and I struggled and I had no help so why should anyone else?

In this Parenting Magazine/NBC video that I saw yesterday (via Jason Avant, Andy Hines) one father states, “I was always self-employed…I had to pay the monthly fees…my last daughter we didn’t have health insurance at all. So I’m tired of listening to everyone complain ‘oh, we had to pay out of pocket, we lost our house.'”

I’m tired of listening to people complain “we lost our house?” 

Wah wah wah. Your kid developed asthma or autism or MS and you lost your house. Deal with it. That’s life.

Good God.

How did it come to this?

It truly makes me want to cry.

If I can’t figure out how it came to this (although I’m sure smarter people than I have lots of good theories), maybe we collectively can figure out how to get out of it. How we become the people committed to helping other people so they can help themselves, and we can all win.

Is it possible at all? Or is this “every man for himself” idea so ingrained in our society–or at least in a vocal minority of it–that we can’t get past the idea that success comes from strength and failure from weakness?

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take responsibility for ourselves, or work to our abilities. But isn’t there room for compassion and respect for human dignity in there somewhere too?

I feel what’s missing, desperately, from this truly amazing country, is a widespread understanding that we’re all interconnected, whether we like it or not.

One thing I was truly convinced of, first-hand, last week is that any nation is as strong as its weakest citizens. You want to be competitive with China? You want the quality of living of Denmark? You’d better make sure that every kid gets a good education. That every kid grows up healthy. That every family has a fighting chance at becoming a productive part of society.

We are all part of one village. We really, really are.

And if there’s one thing I’m equally sure of, it’s that we need to evolve from the idea that “everyone should have it as tough as I did” to, “let’s make sure no ever has it as tough as I did.”

sene beekeeping cooperative | photo ONE/Karen Walrond

I’ve just returned from Ethiopia via ONE, a nonpartisan advocacy organization fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, especially in Africa. They never ask for money, just your voice. Please sign up for alerts at the ONEMoms blog.

These opinions are all my own. Ooooobviously.

[photos c Liz Gumbinner; Karen Walrond for ONE. Mouseover for details]


53 thoughts on “It takes a village whether you like it or not.”

  1. Well said Liz. To reassure you that you didn’t just meet a select group of people in Ethiopia. Every encounter we had in Ethiopia when we were there was amazing and everyone was kind.

    But I think there is a simplicity that their lives have (especially in rural Ethiopia) that we don’t have here any more. We have focused so much on the “global” world, that we have lost a great deal of our connection with our neighbors–those who live directly around us. Most people are anonymous and we treat them that way. We don’t need to rely on each other as we maybe once did.

    How connected are you to the people in your building? What do you know about their life and struggles. I know the people who live on either side of me–but across the street? I know very little. It is too easy to not have to interact with people and to not have to know their issues and to not have to care.

    The reason that much of what works in Ethiopia is that they are all so closely connected. The women who put aside the 5birr do so because they know that they may someday need it. When I was a teacher we had a sick day fund and you could donate up to 3 of your sick days. Anyone who participated could use the fund for extra days if needed. Many people participated because not only could it help someone else, but it might also help them.

    We have come to a place in our money and status driven, capitalism and profit above all us, society where many feel like they won’t need help so why should others get it. It is sad and it bothers me to my core.

    I don’t know how to change it. I don’t know where the compassion is. I don’t use my health insurance–at all (1x a year to the doc), I wish I could donate some of it to those who don’t have enough or any–but we don’t live in a society that fosters that kind of compassion. What a world it would be if we did.

    1. Dawn, we need like 6 hours over drinks to talk about this all. When are you coming to NY!

      You’re right in a way about the connection in Ethiopia having to do with proximity. But it seems ingrained culturally as well. That’s why people were so kind to us everywhere. It’s why the Peace Corps girls we met told us about strangers on day one inviting them in for coffee. But hey, maybe that does come out of “I want to know the people in my neighborhood.”

      I do always like that in my building, when there have been sick elderly residents, so many of the other residents take turns caring for their pets or their homes. There should be more of that.

      1. Wish I was coming to NY soon. Might have to settle on BlogHer 13 as I am determined to go (been trying to make it since 2006). I think another part that can’t be overlooked is the deep faith the Ethiopian people have. They live by the values of that faith. Whereas we have become a secular nation and misuse faith in many ways to limit or dictate what people can and can’t do as opposed to using faith to guide our own decisions and how we treat others. The faith of Ethiopia is one of support and help. The faith of the US is that the self and we’ll help you if you do it our way.

  2. Thank you. I wrote something very similar on my Facebook wall the other day and it is something that has been bothering me to no end through this election in particular. I called for a socialism of responsibility. It’s not even about being more generous or thoughtful, but it’s the idea that we are a strength together. The concepts are so simple… As an example, if our education system breaks down, we see more crime. If kids are hungry, they can’t learn. If you look wealthy and you wander into a crime-ridden area, you could very well be mugged. It stands to reason that by making sure that people are fed, clothed, and educated, you raise your own standard of living. Apply that to jobs, health care, etc. Instead, we hear that people don’t want to pay taxes that support others, they aren’t willing to pay a few cents more to support local business people, they don’t want to take out an extra few minutes to donate their time. Yes, each of those things take sacrifice, but they raise us all up in the end. We are an entitled, egocentric nation and it is hurting us.

    1. Yes, thank you for such a succinct explanation Christy.

      I hate when we start labeling things – Socialism, Marxism, Communism – because first of all, the misuse of the terms is hilariously bad and only seems to inflame. Also, take off labels and just look at the practical nature of it as you discuss and it’s kind of hard to argue with it.

      No one is all “wah, we have a socialized ambulance corps…we’re one step away from worshipping Marx.”

  3. “I feel what’s missing, desperately, from this truly amazing country, is a widespread understanding that we’re all interconnected, whether we like it or not.” You, me, and Tiffany Shlain, creator of the multiple award-winning film, Connected ( are in strong agreement on that. If you haven’t seen it, please do. Oh, and I like when you’re feisty, Liz. Miss you, Rane

  4. I love that photo floating around Facebook and Pinterest that says something about how if we were paid on merit/effort, the women of Africa would be billionaires.

    I’ve gotten into many arguments with folks about how people can work very very hard and still be struggling, and how helping people at a base level (education, food) saves the community money in the long run (crime, disease.) It is the same concept in medicine: primary-care medicine (prevention, well-checks) is crucial to avoid secondary and tertiary (heart surgery, diabetes medication) costs. But unfortunately, there is this short-sighted view that these “preventative” costs are frivolous. There is a similar attitude about social “costs.”

  5. Sad as it is, the “every man for himself” is not limited to US election campaign-mongering. I was floored by the comments to Amanda Todd’s video – as if whole society is just thinking about giving their own sancty-whatever judgement without any regards to anything else. We are so busy proving ourselves worthy in the world, that we forgot (completely?, oh, I hope not) that we can not be happy alone in our ivory towers (or your bubbles). Thinking about particular example you mentioned: about women leaving their child with someone else to take work in another country – and pasting that into our society immediate reaction is two fold: nobody can do mothering job BETTER then *me*; and why should “anybody” have a say on how *I* raise *my* kid. (Not my words, but example of reaction). And there I find the seed of our overbearing individuality that is harming community – we think we can do it better and nobody can say anything about it.

    Time to go back to humility. I’m not religious, but all worldly religions might have been onto something this whole time – humility as purest human endeavour, one that differentiates us from yeast. Dignity can be preserved, as long as we don’t think “myself” as mightier than “yourself”.

    Thank you for such thoughtful and thought-provoking posts.

    1. Oh man, if only all religious leaders could devote their energies and influence towards teaching compassion and charity instead of a lot of the anger and divisiveness I see. Wouldn’t that just change so much?

      1. That is why I’m not fancying any religious leaders, but I can pick up something or another from their books…

        But you are absolutely right – focusing on compassion would yield better world. As opposed to current product of “I am right, you are wrong” approach. And that “you” is always someone disconnected from “me”.

        I read interesting research when someone posted posters with human eyes in the university cafeteria. Posters alone were enough to boost the % of returned trays and cutlery (as opposed to be left on the table). It seems we, as humans, behave differently when around other humans that remind us of ethical choices. Since anonymity is closely related to the size of community, this is perfect example where bigger is not better. And certainly not more mature or aware.

        I should move out of the city… 😉

          1. You know, this is a point that I think merits further discussion…..(religion and it’s role in all of this.)

            There ARE churches – many many many – who are reaching out to their local and global communities. We just don’t hear about them, for two reasons: 1) They’re busy doing the work, and 2) they are called not to bring attention to themselves regarding the work, they are called to simply DO the work of God. To be God’s hands and eyes and ears and go where love is missing.

            To illustrate: The children’s/family minister at our church sent an e-mail out asking for children’s clothing donations for two single moms sharing an apartment in the adjacent neighborhood with their kids that burned – they lost everything. Within two days her office was overflowing, not just for items for the children, but for the moms, too.

            The reaching out to our communities large and small is something our church has dubbed G.L.O.W. – Go Love Our World. We offer a free lunch to the neighbors in our area on Saturdays, arrange for free medical/dental clinics, including childcare, a few times a year where medical professionals donate their time and materials, raise money for malaria nets to be sent to countries where they are needed, school supply drives, hygiene kits sent to refugee camps internationally, youth group mission trips for Habitat For Humanity. One person I am privileged to know has a “Sock Ministry,” in which he solicits sock donations and goes to the homeless in our community, WASHES THEIR FEET, and gives them new, fresh socks. He’s crawling under bridges and risking his life to do this. He’s not asking them for a conversion, confession, etc. He’s meeting them where they are: under a bridge with dirty socks, and SHOWING them that they are not invisible.

            So, for all the sound and fury of a few people who yell and scream about God’s wrath, there are that many more out in the world quietly showing God’s love. They’re harder to see because they’re not as loud. (I think I just wrote a post in your comments! Oy!)

            1. Oh I agree COMPLETELY! There are a ton of wonderful religious leaders in communities preaching actual values and not politics. I just wish they could all be like that. Sorry if I was unclear.

              By the way, your church sounds wonderful.

            2. Sorry I went on and on! It’s a community that humbles me and reminds me not to be myopic, and to teach my children not to be.

              Again – I appreciate very much the platform you have and the voice you use to shine light on these subjects….that really, we have all the “things” we need. What we need more of is community, i.e., each other.

  6. I always wonder about parents who advocate the “every man for himself” attitude. Is that really the world they want for their kids?

    Like the guy in the video, I was self-employed for many years, and didn’t have health insurance during some of that time. I was really lucky (especially since I was in construction) that I didn’t hurt myself or get sick. But I took exactly the opposite lesson from that experience. If I would have gotten hurt I would have been screwed, and I *don’t* want anyone else to have to go through that.

  7. The lack of compassion is indeed sad, and perhaps even frightening. I think Dawn is right about the lack of connections between people. We’re so busy living our own lives that we don’t often stop to think about others. Or when we do think about people who are less fortunate, we may feel bad, but wonder what can I, one person, really do? Where would I even start? And I think that feeling of being overwhelmed leads many people to do nothing.

    I also agree that some people feel that they won’t/don’t need help so why should others get it. They don’t understand that all it takes is one bad day for everything to go to hell. Or even if they’ve seen it happen to others, “it won’t happen to me.” Six years ago my son had to have major surgery and was in the hospital for two weeks. I can’t even imagine what the hospital bills would have been like if we hadn’t had health insurance. But I’m sure we would have lost everything. Of that I have no doubt. My family was also extremely fortunate to have friends and family rally around us. They took care of us and sustained us during that time.

    I’d like to believe that if enough people were to take the view that what is happening in this country is truly a crisis that things would change. Because people do tend to rally around situations that they feel are crises. Unfortunately, I don’t think conservatives view the situation as a crisis. Maybe sad or unfortunate. Or worst of all that people did this to themselves… that they didn’t work hard enough, that they are playing the system. Is our system perfect? I’m sure not. But just to give up on people… what kind of world is that? I also agree completely that when we help those that are less fortunate we end up helping and building up the community as a whole. And wouldn’t that be a good thing?

    Each of us does not have to do everything or save the world by ourselves as individuals. Start small. Teach children about kindness, about caring for others at every opportunity — help them to make the connections that are sorely missing today, show them how we can work together to help others; I like what Christy said about our strength together. Then find one thing that you can do and want to do to help. And do it. Maybe that is too simplistic, too optimistic. But I also would like to think that if each of us takes on a role, however small, each little bit when combined will add up to fill in a big piece of the puzzle.

    1. I don’t want to say it’s a conservative issue per se – I mean, the conservative politicians, yes. But I know plenty of compassionate conservative who would never turn away someone who needed help. But like you, I’m concerned by the leadership promoting this idea that, as you say, “people did this to themselves.”

      Thank you so much for a beautiful comment. Your last paragraph is just lovely.

      1. Yes, agreed on the conservative politicians, rather than the lumping I did in my comment! I think this election season has me a little riled up.

  8. Do you ever read Momastery? Your post reminded me of one of hers from back in July. She got into a conversation with a man on a plane who definitely had the “my life sucked and I struggled and I had no help so why should anyone else?” attitude. Her take on why he (or anyone else) might think that way was, “If you’ve experienced the world as uncaring and cold, then it only makes sense that you will continue to live with that world view.”

    I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think Leanne (above) has it right that we can teach our own kids about kindness, and try to make sure that no one in our own sphere would have cause to feel like the world is uncaring and cold.

  9. “And if there’s one thing I’m equally sure if, it’s that we need to evolve from the idea that “everyone should have it as tough as I did” to, “let’s make sure no ever has it as tough as I did.””

    This needs to be repeated, over and over.

    And over.

    Thank you.

  10. It is so sad to me that we are here. We are at this spot in the US where it’s every man/woman for themselves and if you want charity you need to grovel at a church or otherwise. What have we become? Where is our unity? Where is our compassion? Where is our COMMON SENSE where we at least understand our society will benefit greatly if everyone is educated and healthy? I just do not understand. ANd it makes me cry. And I hope your trip and your blogging post trip shows the world what is needed here in the US and how much we have to learn from those amazing women.

  11. Liz, this is the most spot-on takeaway that applies directly to our country from one of these blogger-to-Africa trips that I have seen thus far. I can feel your anguish, and you put it so well. It is easy to get overwhelmed by how big and widespread and infectious that negative attitude seems, but if you keep doing what you are doing, your message will affect people and ripple outward from this one little blog post and more, I’m sure, to come.

  12. Funny, you seem to be asking how, but what I see is you showing us how.

    Thank you for sacrificing time with your family, thank you for opening yourself completely to the experience in Ethiopia and thank you most of all for keeping the embers of the trip alive and allowing us to use them to ignite caring, action and change.

    1. I have magic fingers (and WordPress) that let me fix such things. Don’t tell anyone…I spell Ethiopia pretty much wrong every time I type it.

  13. Liz, I loved this. Thank you.
    For the record, I do cry often and did cry this week in fact. I was inspired by purchasing a scarf per your rec in a previous post and thought how easy it can be to do good things. After asking my 3 siblings and their spouses if instead of doing a Christmas gift exchange we perhaps choose to do a charitable donation instead, one by one I was shot down. Excuses like “I give enough all year” (to which I responded ‘it’s never enough’) to “I get nickeled and dimed every time I walk out of a store during the holidays” (missing the point of how lucky they are to be able to actually afford to shop frivolously) to “I worked for a charity for two years” (a Catholic school as a teacher- not the same.) and on, I gave up. These are my siblings! Were we not raised better? The answer is no. And that’s why I cry.
    Keep on posting and inspiring people to open their hearts and minds. Fortunately, so many of your readers are highly evolved people that realize our fortune and want to make the world a better place and do so every day.
    Thank you for providing content for me to tweet and link to in the hopes that others will be affected just as I have been.
    I love your blog.

    1. This is a difficult comment to read. I’m so sorry for how you’re feeling.

      It’s tough to feel inspired, sure you have a great idea of any sort, then to have it shot down. Maybe they’ll come around. Or maybe you just tell them all you want is a donation in your name. It’s annoyingly cliche to say so but we can’t change everyone–we can only change ourselves. Keep being who you are.

  14. As an educator, I’ve always grappled with the question of how we teach the concept of freedom to those who have known nothing but. We’ve decided in this country that American Exceptionalism is our due. It’s not something we need to earn, not something we need to continually work for. We’ve confused Exceptionalism with Individualism: I don’t need to learn from the past; I don’t need to value the elders in our society; I can do anything I choose and not pay the price. However, ‘Exceptionalists’ believe that if they choose to stay in their ‘village’ they have the right to condemn anyone who is different: gender-wise, race-wise, class-wise. It certainly takes a village, Liz, no matter how small-or large-the village is. I’m so glad you reminded us again that we are connected spiritually, economically, culturally. We fail to acknowledge this at our peril.

  15. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Liz. A truly real and genuine way to bring back the experience you just had to reflect on what’s happening in our nation now. “The personal is political,” as the saying goes. And it’s downright infuriating to me to hear so many voters and politicians in this election cycle blatantly turn their back on so many Americans. I wonder if they’d have the gaul to say the same harsh words to a friend, daughter, or co-worker’s face when hardships come into their lives.

    1. I wonder that too. But then I think about how some of them have used government programs to go to college or to deal with health care issues themselves…and I realize the entitled are not against “entitlements” – they just think the entitlements are reserved for them.

      1. Yep. Because *those* entitlements are deserved, not “handouts” like the ones others get. *eye roll*

  16. Liz – I have loved reading about your adventure and it definitely has jarred me back to a better perspective on what is impt.

    I love the way you write about how the women of Ethiopia help as a community. My friend recently had a double mastectomy and a grp of us have been driving carpools, watching her kids,delivering meals,etc.

    A few people questioned “why?”

    “Why not?” She deserves it.

  17. Thanks for the mention, Liz. We dealt with health insurance woes for a couple of years, when my wife and I were both working as independent consultants; we struggled not only with insurance costs, but the nightmare of repeatedly hearing that my son couldn’t be covered due to pre-existing conditions (one of these: being treated at an urgent care for a spider bite). I landed a full-time job last year, and fortunately my employer provides full health coverage. And it made me more determined than ever to always, always, always raise my voice (and cast my vote) in support of health care reform, so that no one has to go through what we did.

  18. I don’t exactly know how to address the issue of people who allow some abstract political concept to cloud their sense of decency and compassion when it comes to real life problems of others. It’s disturbing.

    But I will say that I do believe on an individual basis that many more people are willing to reach out and help than we might expect, but they just don’t know what to do. I know I often feel overwhelmed by hardships in the world and don’t know where to put my efforts. When clear opportunities present themselves to step up and do something specific for a neighbor in need, we do what we can and gladly. I like to think even those who say things such as “let him die” would still behave better when put face to face with someone in a dire situation. (In fact, that was proven to be the ‘up side’, if you can put it that way, in the infamous Milgram studies.)

    Thank you again for putting faces to some of these stories, and providing specific links and opportunities to help. They are appreciated more than you know.

  19. It is a village that is making it possible for me to go to Africa next week myself.

    If we’re all intellectually honest with ourselves, we can point to those around us — not necessarily government or charities, but family, friends, colleagues, teachers, coaches, and many more — who helped us along the way. Not a single one of us accomplished everything we’ve done all on our own.

  20. A bright line should be drawn between community and government. Community operates through voluntary cooperation and social pressures, as you described those Ethiopian women were doing, Liz. But government operates only by coercion.

    Coercion is that bright line and it should not be blurred. It is the difference between compassion and compulsion. Between charity and entitlement. Not only is this a moral distinction, this is also an economic distinction because the government cannot care for us as well as we can care for each other.

    So, I think it is misleading to attribute “let them die” to people’s personal response when they most likely took the question to refer to the government’s role.

    In fact, studies show that Republicans are more charitable than Democrats, probably because the Republicans believe it is their own personal responsibility and not the government’s.

    1. Thanks for your perspective Kevin. I’d say it all depends whether you believe the government is there in part to take care of the people. It’s clear you don’t (“bright line”), but not everyone–or every nation–feels that way. The government of Ethiopia devotes more of its budget to healthcare than any African nation–they doubled it over the last five years. Increases lead to school enrollment improvements, adult literacy, better infant mortality rates, all of which which leads to a stronger nation. The programs I saw, while community based, wouldn’t exist without government grants and support. So no, I’m not confusing community and government; I believe the two are intertwined.

      What is government, anyway, if not a group of individuals elected to represent individual communities? The government in a Democracy (ideally of course) is a tool of the people and a reflection of our values.

      As far as the study you’re referring to, which has received a lot of press, it indicates clearly that so-called “red states” give more to charity as a factor of church tithes; #1 by a landslide is Utah, where Mormons are expected to tithe 10% of their incomes. When religious contributions are removed as a factor, the northeast by far has the highest percentage of giving, but to non-faith based organizations (Komen, United Way, March of Dimes, etc). Also interestingly, when you look at volunteering of time instead of money, the rates decrease drastically in the red states. And then you look at a state like Vermont with low monetary giving, but more registered non-profits than any other state–so you might conclude that there, charity comes in the form of doing something.

      Another really interesting study about giving and wealth: rich people who live in less diverse communities give less. Insulation is a huge factor; which is why I think it’s important for people like me to go to Africa to see the world outside my window.

      Not to go off on a tangent, but I think if we’re going to mention studies or try to correlate voting tendencies with charitableness, we can’t talk in sound bytes or draw false conclusions. I’d hope we can agree that there are very charitable people on both sides of the aisle, and with all kinds of political views.

      1. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful response, Liz. I appreciate discussing this with you.

        You wrote: “What is government, anyway, if not a group of individuals elected to represent individual communities? The government in a Democracy (ideally of course) is a tool of the people and a reflection of our values.”

        How is that definition any different from a democratic non-government organization? Your definition omits the only unique, defining characteristic of government, which is the power to coerce. And that power has a high price.

        I don’t know specifically about Ethiopia, but I’ve read that aid often goes through the governments in Africa. As a result, some of it goes to good programs but some is also siphoned off, breeding corruption.

        But even in the ideal, self-supporting case, Ethiopia taxes its citizens and then a bureaucrat decides what programs to subsidize. After all, when was the last time you got to vote on which programs to fund with everyone’s money?

        So, it’s misleading to look only at the good programs funded by government because taxes are compelled in bulk and go to the good, bad, inefficient, and corrupt programs alike. It’s not that the government doesn’t do some good, it is that we can do better.

        Although the recent Red State study comes up first in google nowadays, I was not referring to it. Similar correlations have been shown repeatedly in the past, e.g. here’s another summary. But you’ve raised valid qualifications to some of the conclusions, and I do agree with you that there are charitable people of all kinds of political views, you being among them.

        Besides statistics, I have also personally observed the tendency where the belief that it is the government’s responsibility to take care of people substitutes for personal responsibility to help others. In fact, it seems that the more we depend upon the impersonal government, the less we inter-depend on each other, both our extended family and community. Ironically, I think that government entitlements can actually harm our interconnectedness.

        1. Thanks in kind for a thoughtful response Kevin. We clearly come from different positions. (Also I tried not to link to any partisan sites as far as research and go to the source; a George Will editorial is a George Will editorial, ha.)

          1. You are welcome to read the book that Will summarizes, which includes the studies.

            But to briefly rebut your main point, removing religious contributions only makes sense if there is little to no overlap between one’s religious and political beliefs, which is, of course, silly.

            In other words, if religious people (being more charitable) tend to be politically conservative in part _because_ of their religious belief in voluntary personal charity instead of coerced government charity, then it is perfectly valid to say that conservatives are more charitable.

            I am disappointed that you would not address any of my principled arguments, but I understand that you likely have other constraints on your time. I hope I’ve at least encouraged you to more deeply consider that government may not be a good means of charity.

  21. Oh Liz, this is beautifully written. We are such a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture that we ignore that all those bootstrap-pullers are eternally grateful to anyone, anyone, who would show the slightest compassion, who would open up a door, throw a nickel in their hat. Because every one of those small gestures gives a person strength and support to climb out of whatever difficulty he or she is in. Nobody does it alone, no rags-to-riches success does it without kind gestures from someone else, however large or small. We would do well to remember that as a culture, to soften our edges and gentle our hearts.

    1. Thank you Andrea. Obviously I agree.

      I know we’re starting to get political, but I’ve loved Obama’s line about how the door to success is open to anyone, and once you go through it yourself, you help others through; you don’t shut it behind you. It’s how I was raised as well.

      I think a lot of this comes down to worldview: is the world inherently abundant or lacking? Is there enough for everyone? And is offering help enabling good potential or encouraging bad habits? It’s been fascinating watching this divide.

  22. You know, as a Canadian, I can see that my country isn’t so very different, culturally speaking. But I truly am grateful for the differences around our social safety net. Sometimes we all need to pitch in to guarantee the best possible life for everyone. I don’t see anything shameful or wrong in that.

    1. Well clearly some people call it “charity” and have different feelings about where charity should come from. I am trying to see other perspectives, but like you, I believe we take care of each other–through student loans, work programs, social services, affordable health care, pothole repair. It’s all about strengthening all of us.

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