(Also published at The Agonist)
Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.
- Frederick Buechner
Imagine for a moment that you’re outside of a lovely glass house. You can look in and see that they people inside the house are enjoying themselves. There’s food and drink aplenty, and the people on the inside seem quite happy and relaxed. It’s as if they don’t have a worry or care in the world.
It’s not really that way for the people on the inside of the glass house, of course, but you don’t know that- because you’re on the outside looking in. As far as you can tell, there are no doors through which you could enter the warmth and comfort of the inside, no way for you to access the seeming ease and frivolity that you can see from the outside. You have some idea of what it feels like to be on the inside, of course, because time was when you were there. Then, through no fault of your own, you were exiled to the outside and left to fend for yourself. Now all you want is to be able to once again be on the inside looking out instead of where you find yourself- on the outside, cold, alone, and possessed of an uncertain future. No matter what you try or how positively you think, you still can’t find a door…and then it dawns on you. There are no doors, because the people on the inside have no desire to let you in.
This is what we’ve come to- a nation in which millions are unemployed but are roundly ignored by those we elect to address problems such as these. Even worse, we have Republicans who honestly believe that discriminating against the unemployed is perfectly acceptable. Not only do we ignore and discriminate against the unemployed, we also blame them for their dilemma.
Now that President Obama has finally put forward a piece of legislation designed to put Americans back to work, Republicans are opposing it. They know if they pass it, then Obama will get the credit, which will only make defeating him next November that much more difficult. Meanwhile, millions of Americans continue to exhaust their unemployment insurance and descend into abject poverty…all while Republicans play political games.
It would appear that compassion is in short supply. After all, if God had meant for you to have a job, you’d be working, right??
Being unemployed is not a new phenomenon in this country. Even under the best of circumstances, “full employment” is considered to be when the unemployment rate hits 4%. There are always people unemployed in America, and for any number of reasons. What makes this recession so different is that, while the term “recovery” keeps being tossed around as if things are getting better, the word “jobless” is usually attached to it. Things may be getting better, but for whom? When the unemployment rate still hovers around 9%, clearly the sun of a bright new day is not shining on everyone wanting to enjoy it.
If you’re unemployed, as millions of other Americans are, you no doubt can relate to my glass house analogy. You know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. You know what it’s like to be treated like a leper (UNCLEAN!! UNCLEAN!!), as if you have some sort of contagious social disease that might well rub off on anyone unfortunate enough to come into contact with you. We’ve all heard stories about businesses not wanting to hire the unemployed. We’ve probably also heard stories about age discrimination, businesses unwilling to hire the middle aged despite the experience and perspective they might bring to the table. It’s as if once you find yourself in the hole, there’s simply no way to dig yourself out of it…because the cards are increasingly stacked against you.
I’m not pleading for sympathy, but I am wondering how this country got to the point where the many are so willing to allow the few to slide off the precipice and down the slippery slope.