Mr. Christensen, experienced newspaper editor and reporter, advertising executive, and former Army officer, currently does free lance writing from his home in Spokane, Washington.
Someone has said that when you ask for help, justified or not, you surrender some part of the right of self-determination. Dependency feeds on dependency until the will to rise above imposed power fades and freedom is lost. Almost daily the reality of this statement is confirmed.
When a community project encounters rough going, somebody usually jumps up and wants to appeal to "the government" for help. This has become so common that such a proposal is expected in public meetings and in sessions behind closed doors. Perhaps we are becoming child-like in our faith, expecting that no matter how naughty we may have been, "Daddy will pull us out of the mess."
There is no mystery in this growing attitude toward the privilege of acting for ourselves. Instead, we have been taught to look with paternal reverence to "the government," to the White House, to the Congress, or to the relief agency with offices just around the corner from where we live or work.
Can it be that we have entered an era in which self-reliance is going out of style and in its place dependency is becoming the accepted thing? Judging by what is transpiring, one fears that such is the case and that the trend, unless checked, may eventually dim the lights on the Statue of Liberty.
Not long ago I attended a public meeting in which community improvement was discussed. The first question from the floor was a reasonable one: "How do we pay for this?"
An alert citizen had a quick answer: "There must be some way to get the Federal government in on this. This program must be covered by one of the Federal agencies. Find that agency and we’ll have it made."
One courageous soul protested against opening the door to Federal participation. He was all but hooted down, despite his years of experience and the fact that he had pumped life-blood into two or three dying industries, had built a small industrial empire of his own from a back-yard beginning in private enterprise and was now employing hundreds of men and women and, through heavy taxation, was contributing to the development of his community, his state, and his country and helping to meet the spiraling costs of these governmental units.
The disheartening note in this demonstration was the manner in which this advocate of free enterprise was frowned upon by his fellow citizens, including some of his own employees, and how the vociferous champion of a "generous, big daddy" government was cheered and supported.
Sink or Swim
We have projects today, including a war on poverty, which seem to be achieving at least one goal. Supporters of the war on poverty succeed in uncovering hidden areas of poverty but seldom do they expose the areas of vast undeveloped opportunities in this resourceful land.
Seldom do we hear of more people rolling up their sleeves and digging in to solve their individual problems in the way that the pioneers of this choice land uncovered the wealth that we now enjoy. Work, toil, sweat seem to be definitely out of style. Yet, there still exists a solid core of old-fashioned citizens devoted to thrift and industry; many of these are young in years, but they have vision.
The late President James A. Garfield once remarked: "Poverty is uncomfortable, as I can testify; but nine times out of ten the best thing that can happen to a young man is to be tossed overboard and compelled to sink or swim for himself."
Responsible Charity Helps the Recipient Help Himself
Churches are becoming aroused by the corroding influence of the "get it for nothing" gospel, and a churchman recently sounded this warning:
"If you take care of a person from the time he is born until the time he leaves this earth, you may destroy his self-respect," N. Eldon Tanner, a member of the first presidency of the Mormon church, wrote in The Improvement Era, official organ of that religious denomination.
Mr. Tanner set forth the basic aims of the Mormon church’s welfare program as a world-wide effort to "care for our own." In this program the Mormon church provides employment for the handicapped, for the aged, and other unemployables in the labor market. They earn their sustenance by working on church farms, in church factories and workshops. Those who cannot work are cared for from the products of the welfare program.
"If you give a person help in obtaining employment, you are not just encouraging him to earn what he gets," writes Mr. Tanner, "you are also helping him develop self-respect and in time his family and neighbors will have increased respect for him. He must feel that he is doing his part and carrying on as a part of the community."
This welfare program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church, with headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, was first launched in the depression of the thirties. The original program, called a security program, was aimed at what the church viewed as the evils of the Federal dole in the New Deal era. The church did not object to a member working on a public project. The objection was to accepting a dole without working. This was the evil, as the church saw it.
Heber J. Grant, who was then the president of the church, said: "Mormons are strongly urged to give an active and energetic day’s work for a day’s pay."
Mr. Tanner, in his recent statement, declares: "If any of us think that the program of the government (today) can take the place of, or in any way improve the programs that are outlined by the church, we are on the wrong track."
A Dependent Way of Life
Perhaps we should visit one of our public assistance offices. If we do, let us go with humility, for the poor will be there, along with others who may create doubt in our minds. You may have difficulty, for example, in parking your car because today’s public assistance recipients and applicants do not all come afoot. Large cars and small cars will be parked there when you arrive and there may be no space left for you. You may have to drive farther on, but the walk back will be invigorating and may give opportunity to observe more of those who have joined the growing dependency army.
Inside the office, you will have the stimulating experience of witnessing further how dependency grows. You may see a new form of independence which arrogantly demands that "the government" must shoulder the burden of one’s personal comfort and survival. You may overhear the pitiful plea of a well-dressed woman that she desperately needs an extension phone installed in her home… and she gets it. Your sensitive nature may be touched by a young mother who says that neither she nor her children can eat the food that is dispensed to them from welfare stocks. You may be shaken by this and worry about it until you discover that the food she complains of is similar to the food you purchased with your earned dollars in the supermarket the night before.
You may also hear the welfare applicant, who has just driven up in a 1966 station wagon and who is dressed as well as your own wife, emphatically point out that "the government certainly can’t expect us to get along on that miserly bit of money."
"How can we live on that?" she shrieks at the timid girl behind the desk. But, you will notice, the applicant doesn’t walk out indignantly and say: "I’ll show you. I’ll go to work."
No, she doesn’t do anything rash, such as getting a job. She is totally sold on the total dependency idea and she’s hanging on and fighting for all she can get for nothing.
Such are the things you may see on a casual visit to a public assistance office. The potential danger to freedom will become apparent when you witness the willingness of so many to slough off personal dignity, to shun honest work, to resign themselves to a state of total dependency.
None of this should reflect on the character of those destitute through no fault of their own. They would willingly work, if they could. They are grateful. These people seldom complain. The evil lies in a system that encourages and allows the able-bodied to drift into a state of shiftless dependency that takes from them their dignity and their freedom. To this they also commit their children, and this is the evil that is shocking some of our churches and should shock us.
When either a community or an individual extends its hands and says, "Please help me," the first step has been taken toward abandoning self-determination.
Throughout history, the leaner always has had trouble standing on his own feet.