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"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Headline: Woman Takes On the New York Times, Has No Effect Whatsoever

For what it's worth...the name of my blog...means just that. This blog and a dollar will get you an ice cream cone at McDonald's (if their machine isn't down). But it's my opinion, and it's worth it to me to think and stew and vent and organize my thoughts, regardless:

In his September 17 op-ed piece for the New York Times, columnist David Brooks points the finger at Republican nominee Mitt Romney for being out of touch with the true conditions of the nation. Forty-seven percent of the country, he quotes Romney as saying, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
He goes on with this comment:

Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency. But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills. People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.
Therein lies the problem. Romney thinks that forty-seven percent of the country believed they are entitled. Brooks thinks that entitlements are a necessity. I disagree with both.
I would estimate closer to 100% of Americans feel entitled in some form or another. Other people have things; so should we. Other people get the best medical care available; so should we. Why shouldn’t I have my own home – I can’t afford it, but that’s not really fair! I pay taxes! I demand my road get fixed today, or the cops come whenever I snap my fingers (whether or not my taxes pay them well or not).
I don’t like Romney. I may not vote for him. I don’t trust him, and there has been an epidemic of really stupid comments by Republicans going viral. (I don’t trust President Obama either, however.) But Romney is correct, I believe, that people who receive benefits have, by way of human nature (not by way of being Americans or on welfare or for any other reason), a tendency toward dependency, or at least codependency.
Let’s say that someone shows up at the door every morning and hands you $100. Not as a payment for anything you’ve done, it’s just what he wants to do. At first you’re surprised, excited, grateful. After awhile, however, you start expecting it. You did nothing to earn it, but hey, if the guy wants to pay you $100 every morning, who are you to complain? You notice that everyone else on the street is getting the same benefit. Good for them!
Then one day the guy doesn’t come. WTF? You haven’t earned it, but now you feel entitled, especially when you see him at the next-door neighbor’s. If the guy suddenly starts going only to certain houses…or no houses…he’d better stop showing his face anywhere near the neighborhood!
You became, quite gradually and through no real fault of your own, dependent. You started spending the next day’s Ben Franklin before it actually arrived. Your expectations drove your plans. No, can’t afford it today, but tomorrow, I’ll get paid and…
You overspend. You don’t save. You don’t question why you’re getting it or how long it will last. You depend on the kindness of a stranger, and you are trapped. He now controls your emotions and behavior.  The only way you’ll stop depending on him, in truth, is if he stops coming around. Eventually you realize you’ll need to adjust your lifestyle, your way of thinking.
It’s a poor, limited analogy. But as a family counselor has mentioned to me, he’s never seen such an entitled generation as he sees in today’s young adult population. They were raised—the ones he has observed, anyway –by those middle class parents Brooks celebrates. They just wanted to give their kids as much as they could, give them more than they had growing up. And it has come back to bite them, big time.
There are millions of grandparents raising grandchildren, for example, and the initial response by most people, myself included, is Thank God for the grandparents! Where would those poor kids be without them? Unfortunately, the cycle, once set in motion, replicates itself. Unless steps are taken to prevent it, children are raised thinking this is the norm, becoming irresponsible parents one day themselves, because that is what parents do.
As a nation, I fear that we have become those children, coddled and protected, benefitted en masse when times were good, and now demanding the same benefits during tough times. Those who lived through the Great Depression learned much more from their suffering, I hate to say, than we who have had so very much.
I have seen firsthand, in our own family, what “helping” someone financially can do, and it isn’t pretty. Rather than see a loved one “do without” we have jumped in, only to have the help backfire to a devastating degree. I have tried to “help” someone with visible, valid needs only to realize—hopefully not too late!—that I had actually prevented that person from truly growing up, stepping up to the plate, learning the important lessons of life.
It’s natural for parents and grandparents and governments to want their “dependents” (and there’s a reason we call them that!) to be happy, well-fed, nicely clothed. But the writers of the Declaration of Independence were on to something: We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created, that they are endowed BY THEIR CREATOR with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life,  liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Pursuit implies work. Diligence. Self-motivation. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to think that happiness is owed them. That government, by supplying their everyday needs, will press a button or wave a magic wand at some point and happiness will knock on their door. It just doesn’t happen that way. Romney doesn’t get it, but neither does Brooks.
For what it's worth.

(C) Ellen Gillette, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Rambling about Tough Times

A friend of mine is going through a tough time, but says that it is a good thing. Painful, but good. I could elaborate and compare this whatever-it-is phase with necessary surgery, but I won't. Surgery implies that something is wrong with the body and surgery is needed to correct it. Sometimes we go through tough times when there doesn't seem to be any "need" for it. It just happens.

Many, many years ago I ran into the back of a car. I had kids with me, but I was going so slowly that there was no damage to the other vehicle, and only slight damage to my own. Still, it was unsettling.

Later in the day, I was on the phone with our minister. I told him about the fender-bender and his first response was so typical of many people of faith: "What is the Lord trying to teach you?"

I probably mumbled something spiritual-sounding or fortuitously heard a child in the background requiring my assistance. What I WISH that I had said was: "I think he was trying to teach me to keep my eyes on the freakin' road." Or words to that effect.

Maybe you didn't get bombarded with this, in your early formative years, spiritually speaking. For whatever reason, it seems like there always needed to be "a reason," or "a lesson." Tough times were either because (A) God was teaching you something, (B) Satan was attacking you, or (C) you blew it and needed punishment. Or (D) "We  live in a fallen world, and there will be bad things happening."

Conversely, any alleged miracle/healing/blessing was proof of (A) God's smiling down from heaven in benevolent grace just because he wanted to, (B) Satan being defeated in your life, or (C) your spiritual maturity. Or (D) "I've read the back of the Book and we win!"

The problem with this line of thinking, this tidy cause-and-effect box we try to put God, ourselves, and Everything That Happens into...well, there are lots of problems with it.

There are lesson to be learned at all times. When bad things happen, when good things happen. The lesson isn't in the thing, but in our response to the thing. The sun comes out, the birdies start to chirp, and one of us sings along, while another is complaining about the heat and waiting for an eyeful of bird shit.

Something bad happens, and we can either expect things to improve at some point, or use it as confirmation that our lives suck. Something good happens, and we can either rejoice, or put on our Eeyore mask and talk about how temporary it is.

These are not principles just for Christians, obviously. Positive people may or may not attribute their overall cheerful natures to a divine source of any kind. Being positive works for the Muslim or Hindu or tree-hugger, just like tithing does. There are plenty of odious characters who reap financial benefits by giving generously to those in need, who may or may not even know that they are obeying a biblical mandate. God is bigger than that. His blessings are for "anyone who will" as the scripture says.

My friend said that this current phase is difficult to understand or explain. I can relate. On the one hand, there are negative things in my life pressing in on all sides. Why are they happening? "Woe is me" (or more grammatically correct, "Woe is I"!). What can I glean from them? How should I respond? Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?

On the other hand, another area of my life is so overwhelmingly positive that just thinking about the grace and joy makes the other parts tolerable. And again, hard to understand or explain. I didn't do anything to "deserve" the happy parts of my life. But some of the same questions apply: How will I respond? How can I protect and nurture this, so that I don't take its blessings for granted? When we treat sacred things as common, we miss so much.

I'm rambling, I know. All of life is, in a sense, sacred. We aren't alive because of anything we did or didn't do, but because the Giver of Life breathed it into us and has chosen, for his purposes and plans, not to withdraw it just yet. So every moment has some of that divine spark, whether it is "painful for the moment" as Paul wrote concerning discipline, or a "cup (that) overflows" as the psalmist wrote of life's blessing.

When all that we're experiencing is low, dark, difficult, it is hard to remember that joy exists. I know this well. And when all that we're experiencing is the top of the mountain, yippee!, success, happiness, we can forget that those valleys are very real. The person next to you may be in the valley - don't try to sing songs to cheer him up, but acknowledge his pain and remind him that it will pass, in time. The person next to you may be on the mountain - don't try to bring him down to the "real world" just because you're having a bad day.

To sum it up - I really do have that "make things tidy" mentality, I'm afraid - let yourself be. Let others be. Circumstances will be all over the place, up, down, sideways, highs, lows. Underneath all of the circumstances is a place of peace. A depth of ocean unrippled by the surface winds.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2012  Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.