Thursday, December 27, 2012

Are we really that different?

In the last couple of weeks I've heard the resentment of a friend and my son toward how the money they pay in taxes is spent. I say I've heard it because so often those of us who are considered liberals (either social or political), don't hear what more conservative people have to say. We dismiss them as having no empathy and as claiming everyone who receives some form of public assistance has a sense of entitlement.

That isn't true of either of them.

My friend is very generous in giving to causes that break the cycle of poverty, especially for the children.

My son has less to give financially, but he appreciates the same thing. What he struggles with is a cousin who didn't work, lived rent free off of parents and friends, and got food stamps for her kids. He has always worked hard for his family and resented it when his taxes went to provide her with food stamps. What surfaced it again for him recently was standing in a checkout line behind a guy using his food stamp debit card to pay for beef jerky and Mountain Dew. His view of people who get public assistance has been tainted by his cousin's sense of entitlement. The guy in the check out line just reinforced his impression of bad judgment and selfishness.

My friend's resentment arises from knowing that his income is being targeted for tax increases. Rather than getting to direct his money to invest in charities he believes in, he will lose control of what it funds.

I respect both of them, so I started thinking about what makes me feel the same way. We definitely see people who make ridiculous demands when they come into our program. I have the same feelings my son does when I hear about one of those demands. Thankfully, the people who make them are unusual enough that they become a "can you believe it" anecdote. I doubt that any of our staff would last in a program serving homeless families if most of them came in with a massive sense of entitlement.

When I think about losing the deduction for the interest I pay on my mortgage, I get the resentment my friend feels at the idea of being taxed more.

There isn't a solution to the dilemma inherent in the fiscal cliff that will overcome the resentment that either of them feel.  Actually, I suspect there isn't a solution that any of us will really like.  We may come at it from different directions, but we usually can find more to understand than the liberal and conservative labels might lead us to believe.