Wiser: Government supports our responsibility to help others
Last year, about this time, I had my heart broken. It was the worst feeling in the world and still hurts to think about. It was as if I couldn’t catch a full breath, as if the front part of my brain, just behind my forehead, wouldn’t ever stop pounding, and as if my heart were being constantly compressed. I wouldn’t recommend it.
I didn’t know what to expect and had no idea how long the hurting would go on or if it would ever stop. I was broken, but I did my best to hide it from most of the world. I think I succeeded, except from those who knew me best. I kept going, sometimes only just barely, but I feared what would happen if I ever came to a full stop. As Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” At the time, I often recited to myself this section from one of my favorite works by Rainer Maria Rilke, called “Go to the Limits of Your Longing,” which depicts the Creator’s final words of wisdom before sending us on our earthly adventure: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.”
My personal tragedy all happened in the midst of a world burdened by an unknown virus, unclear guidelines and uncertain expectations. While I was having the worst year of my life for a very personal reason, the world was also having a doozy of a year; and my pain seemed selfish and minuscule compared to the suffering occurring on a global scale.
Human suffering isn’t new. The experience I had last year wasn’t unique; billions of people alive and dead have felt similarly at some point in their lives. That understanding did nothing to console me at the time. What did help were the acts of kindness, love and support from those around me. I know that sounds cheesy — and if you didn’t like that, then you’re going to hate this next part — but these people, getting me through a dark time, truly became like my personal angels.
In a recent conversation with a friend and colleague, we discussed the proper role of government welfare in people’s lives. Though we disagreed about the amount and methodology, the conclusion we agreed upon is that there is some sort of backstop role for the government to play in caring for its citizens because sometimes those people simply have nowhere else to turn. After the conversation ended, I kept thinking about people not having anywhere else to turn, and it saddened me. I kept wondering — where are their angels?
James Madison famously said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Clearly, we aren’t angels, but since I am a believer in limited government, I also believe in the ability of human beings to rise to the occasion and take care of each other when we need it most. Does it always happen? Of course not. But I’m willing to bet it happens by family, friends, churches and charities a lot more often than we think — and certainly more often than is reported.
Mister Rogers taught us to look for the helpers. Last week, we marked 20 years since the terrorist attack on 9/11, and that moment in history, which shifted global workings more than any other event in my lifetime, has been on my mind, as I’m sure it’s been on yours. It makes me think of the hero helpers who ran into frightening uncertainty to help perfect strangers. Those first responders became someone’s angel that day.
As we look for the helpers, and if we open our eyes, I believe we will see them at every turn. Let us also discover more opportunities to help. Then let’s rise to the occasion and be a bit more angel-like by doing a little more to take care of each other every day.
Devin Wiser is the executive director of government relations and the director of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at Weber State University.