Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why I Didn't Write Anything About Health Care

Why didn’t I preach about health care? Why didn’t I write about it? The question of whether to raise the issue of health care in any venue has been eating at me for months. I feel strongly about the issue, but have remained silent. I’ve been wondering why.

I think it may have to do with my underlying belief in respectful, grace-filled dialogue. Simply put, I think that as soon as anyone utters the phrase “health care,” all kinds of walls and labels go up that make true dialogue impossible. It has become a loaded term. If I were to preach or to write about the issue, I thought, the chances are slim that anything helpful would happen as a result, thanks to the way in which the national conversation has been degraded in these last few months.

John Wesley taught, “First of all, do no harm.” I actually think that to voice my opinion on health care reform would do harm. I just do not believe that an open, honest, and truthful conversation can happen on this topic with the kind of respect and graciousness that I value. It just seems like people get angry and resort to denigration and belittling of their opponents so quickly, and that’s not good.

So if it wouldn’t do any good, and in fact it would do harm, I have decided to just let it be.

To be clear, I’m not worried about someone getting mad at me. The harm that I’m concerned about is not harm to me personally, but rather to the relationships around me. They call them “wedge issues” for a reason; they split groups apart. They split people apart. For me, that’s not worth it.

“But what if the status quo is causing more harm than discussing the issue would cause?” I ask. “Good question, me,” I reply. Let’s say that the status quo was such that thousands of people were getting sick and dying because they could not afford health care. Hmmm… do we dare compare the harm of thousands of people dying with the harm of a potentially divisive conversation?

Oh, if only that were a hypothetical question…

Can I just say that we seem to have misplaced the goal? The goal should be healthy people. Affordable health care, access to insurance, all that stuff – just means to the end. Healthy people, you know:
- people who don’t get sick just because they are poor,
- people who don’t have to choose between dinners for their kids or a visit to a doctor,
- foster parents who don’t have to wheedle their way into a doctor’s care on behalf of their kids because of the hassle the doctor’s office has with Medicaid,
- children who can go ahead and visit their doctor because a mid-level bureaucrat somewhere hasn’t deemed their condition “pre-existing,”
- and so forth.

The objection may be, “I agree that the goal should be healthy people, but the reforms don’t achieve that.” Then we might go off into specifics of how I think it does and you think it doesn’t and so on, which I am all too happy to do if we can do so with respect and graciousness.

What I’m not going to do is engage any idea that ascribes an insidious agenda to another person. I do not want to wrestle with straw men. I really believe that elected officials at all levels are there because they want what’s best for their communities, but they just happen to see things differently. Is that naïve? Maybe. But here’s how I think of it:

I think that otherwise well-intentioned, good and decent people kind of lose their heads when the spotlight is on them, and they end up saying things that sound differently than they would if you were having a one-to-one conversation with them at a coffee shop. Honestly, that’s what I think. I believe that power corrupts, but I believe that notoriety corrupts even more. Unfortunately, average people like us will never know, because the only time we hear from a politician is when they are in the public view, and they know it, so they act differently.

It happens to everyone, teachers, preachers, journalists, people speaking from the floor of Annual Conference, etc. We tend to veil our true selves with a public persona when we realize that attention is focused upon us, sometimes without even being aware of it. And for a politician, for whom so much is at stake every single time she or he speaks, it is especially noticeable.

One of the most apparent ways this phenomenon is manifest is when people act or speak with limited information. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” said Tower of Power, and they got that right on! I went to the library last night and was stopped by a woman who wanted me to sign a petition to change the way judges are chosen back to a partisan election rather than appointment. I told her no thank you, then I went on to say that we could vote to retain judges every so often, anyway. She looked at me blankly and said, “We can? I didn’t know that.” Yikes. She didn’t know the current system that she was volunteering her time to get changed.

Nobody is going to argue for less healthy people. (I don’t think.) It’s really just the means to that end that we don’t agree on. And that’s okay! Its okay to disagree on stuff, but it is not okay to label and slander and denigrate other people, people who happen not to agree with you. So if you disagree with me on this, I invite your response. (I invite your response if you agree, too!) But please do so with respect and grace. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Andy, thank you for a thoughtful and helpful, and sensible word on Health care, and care for one another. Jim West

Anonymous said...

The lady sure hadn't done her homework. So many people just don't take the time to study. A very good article that is worth sharing. Carl Pierce

Pastor Dave said...

A great post, Andy. I think it's so important for the leaders of the Christian community to stand above the din of dogma and stand for the health and welfare of all. You've done a wonderful job of maintaining the integrity of faith without wallowing in so many arguments for or against. Thanks.

Kory Wilcox said...

Elizabeth and I were discussing the degradation of communication over this issue this morning. I have not refrained from writing or talking, but I haven't pushed the issue, either. I know myself. Generally, not to hole myself in, I tend to be fiscally conservative, socially progressive. Elizabeth and I neither agree nor disagree on the bill itself. My landing pad always tends to be that I wish we were doing more to promote HEALTH and reverse the rising cost of Health Care, as opposed to trying to get everyone INSURED and lower the cost of Health Insurance. The addition of more programs to those that already are unaffordable and broken seems like a hasty approach. It always has, to me.

But it's hard to argue with the altruism and the reality. As Mandy posted yesterday and Elizabeth said this morning: These measures will help a lot of people, and it's already done, now. There's no easy changing it, now. Best find the pros and get on board, because right now, this is what America is doing.

Anonymous said...

As a pastor (read: public person) I struggle with this issue as well. I have to decide if the division my voice may cause is worth the influence it may carry. I love to visit with folks about such issues but have learned that it's best done face-to-face and generally one-on-one. One way presentations such as electronic media hasn't worked well for me because it seems too one-sided; I'm guessing preaching on divisive issues would pose the same challange. Plus, one can choose who they meet with at the coffee shop; the other outlets necessarly include folks who are simply determined to disagree. -Mitch

bob said...

Altruism is great except it doesn't always lead to a good outcome. After all the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I believe Andy is right that the health care bills proponents honestly think they are helping people with this bill. My problem is that provision after provision will raise cost directly and indirectly. By this I mean that directly the cost of care will rise (medical devices tax),the cost of insurance will rise(new mandates for health insurers). Indirectly taxes on the rich and business will be passed on to the middle class.

Remember nothing is free.

A more sensible approach would have been an incremental plan that addresses one problem at a time with an expiration date so that only effective cost efficient ideas would stay on the books. After all what's the hurry, one step at a time is generally the best way forward. If we go too fast we tend to fall on our faces.