The key to compromise? Human dignity


The [Minnesota] Legislature and governor are locked in impasse, largely because it is difficult to find compromise unless transcendent values are held in common.

I’d like to suggest one value that liberals and conservative share: the human dignity of every person.

Consider the human dignity of Freddy, working all of his adult life, primarily in factory jobs — until he developed glaucoma. He lost 35 percent of his eyesight, is unable to work and must turn to the state’s General Assistance program for $203 a month, while the two-year process of determining his eligibility for federal disability support moves through the system.

Or consider Angie, who has gone through intensive therapy for disabilities caused by antipsychotic medication used to treat her mother before doctors realized she was pregnant. Angie is an adult now and able to walk and talk, but still suffers seizures and developmental delays.

She is also the mother of 3-year old twins, whom she raises thanks to support services. Angie and her children live on a combination of her disability income and their state assistance that totals less than $14,000 a year.

Gregg is the CEO of a major Minnesota corporation. He lives a very dignified life. He earned $25.2 million last year, which works out to about $203 every minute of the workday and places his household at about 100 times the federal poverty guideline.

Guess whose human dignity is put into peril to solve our state’s $5 billion deficit?

Freddy’s and Angie’s.

Why the poorest and the sickest? Why must they solve a shortfall caused by an economic downturn and past tax cuts that leave our state short of revenue?

Because the predicament of Freddy’s and Angie’s lives is not well-known. On a recent radio interview, one legislative leader said he didn’t know much about the state’s General Assistance program — its key strategy for insuring human dignity for disabled adults.

The Legislature proposes eliminating General Assistance for adults who are unemployable because of disability or incapacitating illness. Instead, counties would be left to decide whether to provide any assistance to these adults with block grants that total $20 million less than the state currently invests.

The Legislature has also unveiled a proposal to cut assistance to very poor families with disabled parents by $50 a month. The assistance those families currently receive is just enough to reach the poverty line. In most cases, the parent is disabled — so severely disabled that the federal government has designated him or her unemployable.

Because that parent receives federal disability support of less than $700 month, she doesn’t receive any state assistance. But her children do —  they are the ones who are asked to give up the $50 a month.

So why do we have to resort to pushing more people, especially those with disabilities, into homelessness and deep poverty? Why can’t lawmakers compromise a bit and ask people like CEO Gregg and, indeed, most of us, to fix this budget shortfall?

Doesn’t human dignity play a role in giving taxes a second look?

The protection of human dignity may be the very thing to bring about compromise. There may be disagreements about the wisdom of tax hikes and the virtue of reallocating spending reductions, and the need for reform and efficiencies, but we should all agree that fellow human beings should not be cast out of our care. We challenge the governor and the Legislature to compromise.

Not to agree with the other’s stance, but to agree to a transcendent value that guides the way we govern in Minnesota — a commitment to human dignity so that Freddy and Angie may safely live.

Read the full article at the Minneapolis StarTribune

Six Things You Should Never Say to a Friend (or Relative) Who’s Sick


MY friend sat down and ordered a stiff drink. I didn’t think of her as the stiff-drink kind. An hour later, after our spouses drifted off into conversation, she leaned over the table. “I need your help,” she said. “My sister has a brain tumor. I don’t know what to do.”

Three years ago this month, I learned that I had a seven-inch osteosarcoma in my left femur. Put more directly: I had bone cancer. That diagnosis led me down a dark year that included nine months of chemotherapy and a 15-hour surgery to reconstruct my left leg.

At the time, my wife, Linda, and I were the parents of 3-year-old identical twin girls, and we were often overwhelmed with the everyday challenges of having a sick dad, a working mom and two preschoolers. We survived with help from many people. Our siblings organized an online casserole club, so friends could buy us dinner through a meal service. Grandparents rotated in and out of our basement. My high school classmates made a video at our reunion.

But as my friend’s query suggested, some gestures were more helpful than others, and a few were downright annoying. So at the risk of offending some well-meaning people, here are Six Things You Should Never Say to a Friend (or Relative or Colleague) Who’s Sick. And Four Things You Can Always Say.

First, the Nevers.

1. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP? Most patients I know grow to hate this ubiquitous, if heartfelt question because it puts the burden back on them. As Doug Ulman, the chief executive of Livestrong and a three-time cancer survivor, explained: “The patient is never going to tell you. They don’t want to feel vulnerable.” Instead, just do something for the patient. And the more mundane the better, because those are the tasks that add up. Want to be really helpful? Clean out my fridge, replace my light bulbs, unpot my dead plants, change my oil.

2. MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU. In my experience, some people think about you, which is nice. Others pray for you, which is equally comforting. But the majority of people who say they’re sending “thoughts and prayers” are just falling back on a mindless cliché. It’s time to retire this hackneyed expression to the final resting place of platitudes, alongside “I’m stepping down to spend more time with my family,” or “It’s not you, it’s me.”

3. DID YOU TRY THAT MANGO COLONIC I RECOMMENDED? I was stunned by the number of friends and strangers alike who inundated me with tips for miracle tonics, Chinese herbs or Swedish visualization exercises. At times, my in-box was like a Grand Ole Opry lineup of 1940s Appalachian black-magic potions. “If you put tumeric under your fingernails, and pepper on your neck, and take a grapefruit shower, you’ll feel better. It cured my Uncle Louie.”

Even worse, the recommenders follow up! Jennifer Goodman Linn, a former marketing executive who’s survived seven recurrences of a sarcoma and is compiling a book, “I Know You Mean Well, but …,” was approached recently at a store.

“You don’t know me, but you’re friends with my wife,” the man said, before asking Ms. Linn why she wasn’t wearing the kabbalah bracelet they bought her in Israel.

Read the full article at the New York Times