Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Injustice

Some people go to great lengths to do their part and participate in the nation's promise of a fair and speedy trial.

On occasion, it's these same people who are coping with the lowest form of fair.

This thought comes on the heels of a conversation I had about a friend's obligation to serve on a jury in a Hamilton County civil trial. She lives in the suburbs and was relying on public transportation to get to and from the courthouse in Downtown Cincinnati. Not a regular experience (I'd gander to say it's been decades since she actually rode a bus for anything other than vacation transportation), my friend was taking advantage of the service while avoiding the sometimes treacherous, icy roads.

This friend was relaying to me the "drama" of not having proper winter boots (and also making the unfortunate decision to wear thick socks and Crocks - okay so maybe this has implications regarding her ability to make a fair judgment) and coping with the bits of ice and snow making their way into her footwear.

She was walking from the courthouse with a fellow juror when my friend asked him to pause so she could extricate one of those icy annoyances, offering a quip about how she expected a cold wait at the bus stop. That's when the man mentioned that he was also dreading his own walk home.

"You must live close by," she said.

"Well, no. I live five miles away."

Let's underscore that point: This man walked five miles in the snow and ice to serve his time on the jury.

"Oh, well maybe you should take the bus home, too," my friend said. It was a reasonable suggestion - cold weather = taking advantage of opportunities that enhance one's ability to cope with copious snowfall.

The gentleman offered the simple explanation that he didn't have enough money for bus fare.

My friend must have felt awful. I know I would have - I would have felt so guilty for having the means and ability to use something that is so basic, a public service that exists in part to support the disadvantaged.

I asked my friend if she offered the man bus fare, and she told me she didn't have any extra cash on her. I know I would have also felt awkward about the exchange. Would he think me patronizing? Would he be too proud to accept? Would the man take insult with the offer?

I have always had a weakness for those in need, and I suppose that's why I've committed to giving my time to initiatives that aim to provide a hand up, not a hand out. I am also giving what charitable contributions I can; my line of work is called non-profit for a reason, so my financial support comes with a bit of sacrifice. I'm okay with that - someday I hope my financial means will allow me to increase my philanthropic contributions.

I suppose I buy in to that whole wealth redistribution concept.

Sometimes I wonder why fellow members of the Fortunate Class fail to see beyond their own needs - their needs for bigger, better, faster, stronger. I can't comprehend why these privileged people are unable to consider their own blessings and imagine a life of have not. I think of these people, the ones who cast a blind eye, and I force myself to see more, and visualize what else I can do.

There but for the grace of God...

I suppose right now giving a man bus fare (or a hot meal, or non-perishable goods, or a decent tip) is the best thing I can do.

11 comments:

Robin said...

...a hand up, not a hand out. That's a beautiful concept. We need more thinkers just like you!

jasdye said...

great line:
I suppose I buy in to that whole wealth redistribution concept.

Jeff said...

Calling a person who struggled through years of college, has a mountain of student debt, then risks it all on their own business the ‘fortunate class’ is a total copout. They are the hardest working class, who take all of the risk and deserve their earnings.

‘Redistribution’ through coercion is unfair, punishes success, rewards the unmotivated, and hinders the economy. I agree that the unfortunate poor should receive basic benefits to survive, and they do. But I’m sorry, making being poor comfortable encourages laziness and irresponsibility.

Quim said...

Just dealing with the immediate issue here - seems like the county could issue a limited bus pass for jury duty & maybe take the cost out of your jury duty pay ?

The Boyfriend said...

Yeah, Jeff, I'm guessing all those scores of thousands of people who were laid off a couple of days ago at Home Depot, Caterpillar, and Pfizer--not to mention those who will be caught in upcoming cuts at Microsoft, Starbucks, Target, and too many other companies to mention--lost their jobs because of laziness and irresponsibility. I'm sure that offering these people bus fare so that they can pick up those ultra-generous and limitless unemployment checks would encourage them not to look for work and to take up a life of taxpayer-funded leisure.

I didn't see anywhere in Kate's post how it is that the man came to have no money. Maybe he was recently laid off. Maybe he, too, is a person who struggled through years of college, has a mountain of student debt, and risked everything on his own business, which--like most start-ups--failed.

As Kate said, There but for the grace of God...

I, personally, am no more than three to four missed paychecks from being in this man's situation.

And I agree with you. People do need incentives to be productive. But I don't think that giving some minor, out-of-pocket assistance to someone who has fallen on hard times is the first step toward the total ruin of the country.

Jeff said...

The Boyfriend,

I guess we need to define 'wealth distribution'.

I gathered from Kate's post that she was talking about a more substantial dole, not temporary unemployment compensation. Unemployment compensation is fine, but widespread distribution, getting us closer to government dependence is wrong and ineffective.

I wasn't specifically addressing this man's situation, but the wealth distribution mentality.

Jeff said...

It was the term ‘fortunate class’ that struck a nerve.

I’d interpret the fortunate class as being the rich, which by definition is the top 20% earning households (I.E. household income over $88,000). That is a lot of hard-working two income families, who although labeled rich (or fortunate class) are not living lavishly and deserving retribution.

Zippy said...

Where does that definition of "rich" come from? I've never heard of a 20% figure before, and if that's $88k, it's not a real accurate figure, either. (So I'd guess it's a government-spawned number)

Kate The Great said...

Jeff, thanks for visiting my blog and contributing to an interesting debate.

My take on "wealth distribution" has less to do with government and more with the role we all should take on our own. I don't neccessarily agree with the autonomous, involuntary removal of your money from your paycheck to assist others. That's a few shades closer to socialism. Rather, I strongly believe that each individual should be inspired to assess what their needs and means are, and determine what "luxuries" they can afford to do without to help someone else.

And by luxuries, I mean- a meal out at Applebees. A trip to the movie theatre. A subscription to Netflix. Those are the kinds of "luxuries" enjoyed by the Fortunate Class. The Fortunate Class (and this is a definition of my own) is the group of people who carry steady paychecks, have health insurance and save a little extra in a 401k. The Fortunate Class have cars they're paying for (leased or with the intention of owning) and can afford the rent or mortgage for a modest but comfortable living space.

I'm not talking Priviledged Class, babe. Those are the folks who are recognized by name by the Maitre 'd at Pigall's, the folks who use "summer" as a verb. The Priviledged Class don't know the balance of their checking account, and they don't worry about the balance, either.

Those aren't the people I'm talking about.

As it turns out, the Priviledged Class is one of the most generous groups of people. I work in non-profit, and I know who's giving money, and who's not.

The higher tax brackets are contributing to charities at a higher percentage, as they should.

But the lower tax brackets, the Fortunate Class, they're not contributing at the same ratio appropriate to their earnings.

And Jeff, this isn't all about money, anyway.

I think I adequately underscored that at my current income level, I am not able to give what I'd like, and so that's why I am giving my time to several local organizations.

Sometimes time is more valuable than money.

Are you able to give your time and talents to an organization you find worthy?

liz said...

i have a law degree from a top 5 law school and i am one paycheck away from this guy's situation. my dad worked full time his entire life until he was no longer physically able to do so because of a medical condition. he would not be able to survive now without disability and medicaid benefits.

jeff is clearly a person who has been fortunate enough not to have ever had to work really hard in life, otherwise he would understand that working hard is just one small component in terms of your overall ability to support yourself in life.

jeff also has clearly never applied for public benefits himself, and likely does not know anyone who has, otherwise he would know that it is a hell of a lot easier to get a job than it is to get approved for food stamps.

had jeff ever applied for public benefits, he would also know that a childless and nondisabled person is not eligible for any public benefits anyway.

and if jeff considers a single mother with an $8/hour job and no health insurance lazy, or a vietnam veteran with a mental illness and a physical disability irresponsible, then there is really no point in even trying to argue with him anyway.

jeff, i hope your luck doesn't run out. because if it does, you're fucked.

Jeregano said...

Wow! I have got to pay closer attention to the blogs. Where have I been.

Much applause to Kate. I agree whole heatedly with the sentiments of this post.
Great post and great discussion after! As I am several days late I will not add to it now.