“Those People” and What Needs to be Done about Them

Matthew Stone is a sharp journalist. His article “How Maine redirected millions meant to help poor families with kids” is on point and an excellent example of how the media at its best acts to hold our elected leaders accountable.

I’d like to take Mr. Stone to dinner and pick his brain, but discussing our Governor, his administration, and the latest actions of DHHS makes me lose my appetite completely. Perhaps that’s because I’m exceedingly liberal or because I have experienced living in poverty.

I find myself weary and saddened by political stances in which we seem to weigh the worth of people that we see as different from ourselves. Regardless of who you speak of, please do not reference “those people” to me. “Those people” are very likely my people.

I would vastly prefer to focus on what unites us than what divides us but I am mindful of an old adage that dictates, “There are only two types of people in the world: Us and Them.”

I’m at a point in my life where I really am accepting of what your politics are – even if they are diametrically opposed to mine – but I have an expectation that you show respect for other’s values and culture when you express your views.

I have a mantra that I use when reading articles on most newspaper sites:
“Don’t read the comments. Don’t read the comments. Don’t read the comments.”

And then of course I read the damned comments and immediately get disgusted. I’ve read articles on BDN about a proverbial boy scout who rescued a kitten from a tree. Within six comments on the article, the thread will digress into why it’s Obama’s fault that the kitten was in the tree and why Republicans are terrible people because they want to harvest trees.

It’s not just our labels and how we communicate that divides us – it’s how we share our differing values and beliefs. Nowhere is this more evident than when we discuss issues that we associate with poverty. Food stamps are the latest debate because our Governor finds it appropriate to threaten to defy the federal government.

Now, regardless of your politics, when did it become a good idea to make threats against the feds? How is that less than humiliating to us as a state? How is that less than alienating and divisive? It’s being a bully and not an advocate who seeks change.

Whenever I listen to Mr. LePage make the deservedness of those in need relative to one another I cringe. There’s no basis for comparison and to do so is political manipulation. What makes one person more deserving than another is a completely subjective concept and overall just a worthless undertaking.

Ah, but we have the “able bodied” folks to be concerned about. Since becoming an amputee I’ve marveled at that term. Am I able bodied? How many limbs would I have to lose before I am no longer “able bodied?” I work more than full time, why is my physical state not relevant in considering my worth as a person but the unemployed person’s is?

Am I above reproach because I’m a tax paying, business owning, “contributor to society?” (Examine that term closely – it implies that taxes are the sole basis of contributing it’s the only way in which we use that term).

Outrage is intoxicating. Americans in general love to embrace issues and causes that we feel entitled to be angry and opinionated about. Welfare is amongst the most popular of these. We proclaim our truths loudly and often without a moment’s consideration of our audience and we call it free speech:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall

I use free speech by blogging and by using words that are considered profane. The most important differences between people like me and folks like Paul LePage are:

– I represent no one other than myself
– My words and deeds need reflect on no one but myself
– My words are intended to unite, never to divide.

It’s time to hold our elected leaders accountable not only for what they say that is not true but also for how they say things – not to the extreme of what we’ve come to call “politically correct” but to the degree to which we do not perpetuate prejudice and stereotypes.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.