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“It’s not fair to forgive student debt when I’ve paid mine off!” I hear conservatives say. “What makes those people so special? They should suffer, too!”

I understand the sentiment. That’s exactly what I said when leukemia charities asked for donations after my mother died of leukemia at the age of 43. “How dare you try to make life better for others!” I screamed into the phone. “My mom is dead! If you couldn’t save my mother, no one else should ever be saved! It’s not fair!”

I didn’t actually say anything so ridiculous, of course.

We must stop thinking about these programs and policies as “entitlements.” They’re prerequisites for a livable society and a habitable planet.

I will risk invoking Godwin’s law, though, by pointing out that Republicans and moderate Democrats have become Soup Nazis. “No healthcare for you! No college for you! No Green New Deal for you!” Unless you count being left to fend for ourselves.

When I was promoted to senior companion during my Mormon mission to Italy, I was soon assigned a “greenie” straight from America, later becoming senior to a second new missionary. I helped them with irregular verbs. I explained any customs they needed to know.

One of my first seniors had abandoned me during door approaches when I still couldn’t understand anything Italians were saying to me. I found the practice cruel and tried instead to make life reasonably decent for my companions.

It honestly never occurred to me to be an ass just because someone else had been an ass to me.

When I worked at a credit union, we were held accountable to meet a certain weekly quota for home loan referrals. Yet we were forbidden from making any signage to spark interest. Because I talked with customers every day, I had a pretty good idea what signs would be effective and relayed the information to the marketing department.

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No, they were trained and they’d be the ones to determine signage. If I overstepped my place, they’d report me to Human Resources.

So tellers throughout the credit union continued to fall short in their referrals.

I went to three other financial institutions and documented their signage, which was almost word-for-word what I’d suggested. After I submitted the information to the marketing department, they came out with new signs.

Yes, we can accept the status quo, even when it’s terrible. We can make others as miserable as we were. We can refuse to make life better for the next generation.

That’s what parents always say, isn’t it? “I’m working three jobs because I want my kids to have a better life than I had.”

Oh, wait.

Conservatives would have us believe that tuition-free college and vocational training lead to an entire population devoid of any responsibility.

Are we honestly saying that no Germans behave responsibly? No Danes? No Swedes? No Norwegians? No Finns? No French? No Argentinians? No Uruguayans? No Egyptians? No Turks?

My religiously conservative parents managed to live responsibly despite twelve years of “free” public education. Does irresponsibility only kick in after a thirteenth or fourteenth year?

In my mid-twenties, I started paying a monthly premium for life insurance. It was quite cheap, something like $7 a month. After paying for a few years, though, I began to worry. What if I was in a terrible accident just a week before the next monthly payment was due? What if I was too badly injured, maybe even comatose, to mail in a check? What if after three or four more weeks in the hospital, I died? My policy would have lapsed just when I finally needed it.

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My parents had started a health insurance policy a few months before my mom became ill, but even so, the company decided she’d already been ill before the first premium and therefore decided not to cover any of her treatment.

A week after she died, an employee from the billing department at the hospital called, demanding immediate and full payment. When Dad said he didn’t have that much cash lying around, the agent said, “You could sell your home, couldn’t you?”

So, I thought, perhaps I should build in a buffer for my life insurance. I began paying my premium one month ahead.

In response, the life insurance company began sending me notices not to pay the following month, but of course I did. The whole point of paying ahead was to stay ahead.

Irresponsible, I know.

Then the life insurance company sent me a refund check. I couldn’t pay ahead. It wasn’t allowed. The responsible thing to do, apparently, was to live one check away from losing everything.

It became clear the policy was built not to stay in effect. So I canceled it altogether.

When we force people into bankruptcy over medical bills, we’re behaving irresponsibly. Likewise when we refuse to pay a living wage to full-time workers. We’re also irresponsible when we refuse to provide college or vocational training to our citizens.

We’re expecting them to magically achieve a quota of success while denying them the tools to reach it. We’re abandoning them at the door just to watch them squirm because we get some kind of perverse satisfaction from the hazing.

I give to leukemia research. I give to myelin research, too. I give to St. Jude Hospital, and Doctors without Borders because I don’t think that making poor people suffer unnecessarily is responsible behavior. I give to organizations trying to clean up pollution. I give to the American Indian College Fund and United Negro College Fund.

But arbitrary donations here and there are not a responsible way to run a country. If we want to leave the spiritual welfare of our people up to volunteers, that’s fine. But addressing the physical needs of our citizens can’t responsibly be left up to the capricious leftovers of our free time and entertainment budgets.

“It’s irresponsible to want free stuff! Only bums want to take, take, take!”

You mean like demanding federal taxes from the residents of Washington DC without allowing them representation?

Or, did you mean disbanding the elected officials of Flint, Michigan to take their money and then poison the town’s inhabitants with lead-tainted water?

Perhaps you meant taking people off the street and holding them in detention for years without even charging them, much less trying them in court?

There’s plenty of taking to go around, plenty of irresponsibility, plenty of suffering and paying one’s dues. So let’s just concentrate on the main point:

It doesn’t matter if healthcare and education and clean water and a living wage are “rights.” If we want to live in a community not plagued with homelessness and crime and unrest, if we want to live in a country capable of competing successfully on a global level, we must treat our citizens as resources to be cultivated, not pests to be squashed.

We must stop thinking about these programs and policies as “entitlements.” They’re simply prerequisites for a livable society and a habitable planet.

Johnny Townsend

Let’s start behaving more responsibly and take care of our human resources.

Johnny Townsend