I had been traveling a lot this spring so yesterday was my first visit back to the natural food store in my rural community. I chatted with two of the owners. One of the owners, Maggie also owns a farm that produces maple syrup and blueberries. This past March brought unusually warm day temperatures and nighttime freezes. Her blueberry crop was in danger of being a total loss. She told me how another farmer came by to offer important expertise and how her neighbors came out to work with her to cover the blueberry plants.
As I drove away I began to think how ordinary and how extraordinary Maggie’s story was. The story is ordinary because in this neck of the woods this is simply something neighbors do for each other. Her story is one pure self-organization; interactions of this kind happen every day in the web of human relationships. No government involvement or community organizers were necessary to rally neighbors to help a neighbor in need.
Yet, the story is extraordinary because many believe that collective action is not possible without organization by government or community organizers. These people believe that individuals are so self-interested that without coercion or external organization everyone would have to fend for themselves. This is a false view of human nature, but nevertheless, one that is widely believed. This false and fearful view of human behavior is encouraged by those who wish to exercise power over others. Others may hold this false view because they are not in touch with their own true nature.
A Course in Miracles instructs that our “wholly unchanged and unchangeable nature” is, among other things, kind and helpful: “Kindness created me kind. Helpfulness created me helpful.”
In many cities some are motivated by their kind nature to feed the homeless. This week the Los Angeles Times reported that an increasing number of cities are enacting bans on feeding the homeless. In Dallas, “you can give away food only with official permission first.” In Philadelphia the outdoor feeding of the homeless has been banned. The list goes on.
Baylen Linnekin reports in Reason: “In New York City, for example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned food donations to the homeless earlier this year ‘because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content.’ ” Linnekin asks provocatively, “In parks around the world, people are free to feed themselves, pigeons, squirrels, and even rats. So why are local governments increasingly preventing them from feeding other people?”
Back to Maggie and her blueberry crop. Where Maggie lives, the footprint of government is very small. If Maggie’s neighbors needed governmental permission before they could help her, Maggie would’ve lost her crop.
You might say that I’m taking a straw man position since no one is proposing that government permission should be required before neighbors can cover blueberry plants. But why not, Maggie’s neighbors could have fallen on the ice in her fields. Who is protecting them?
The answer to that question is, of course, common sense is protecting them. Maggie’s neighbors got immediate feedback about the effectiveness of their help. If the risk was too great, they would be reluctant to help in the future.
Those helping the homeless also get immediate feedback about the best ways to continue to help. Such important factors as the best locations for their feeding stations, the type of food to serve etc. can be updated often by those volunteers with on-the-spot knowledge. Volunteers receive the satisfaction of helping their fellow human beings, and those they are serving receive the warmth and compassion that is often missing from a faceless bureaucracy.
So why the interference with helping the homeless? The Los Angeles Times asks if it is a well-meaning policy or war on the poor? Perhaps there is a third explanation—this interference is a heartless attempt by those in government to secure their position as the helpers of the homeless. Consider the following story.
Last September tolls on the George Washington Bridge, between New Jersey and Manhattan, rose to $12. However, if you have three passengers, you can cut your total in half to six dollars. As a result carpoolers began to pick up passengers at bus stops.
Port Authority police, the operators of the bridge, began to ticket cars that stopped to pick up passengers. The Port Authority claims that they are trying to protect passengers, but as the Wall Street Journal reports they may be trying to protect the revenue that funds their outrageous salaries. Some toll takers made over $200,000 last year. Could bureaucrats that help the homeless be similarly trying to protect their positions?
Would it be an exaggeration to say that government hinders rather than supports private actions that promote mutual well-being?
A Course in Miracles evocatively points out the benefits of kindness:
Each day a thousand treasures come to me with every passing moment. I am blessed with gifts throughout the day, in value far beyond all things of which I can conceive. A brother smiles upon another, and my heart is gladdened. Someone speaks a word of gratitude or mercy, and my mind receives this gift and takes it as its own.
Despite government interference, compassionate and kind behavior really does happen every day.