We know that people call upon government to help them in myriad ways, and we also know that it often makes a royal mess of rendering that aid. As the joke goes, the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
What about helping ourselves and each other? Have we forgotten how? Are we too selfish? Are we simply incapable? Are we really as completely dependent on government as the politicians want us to believe? Only the nature of the help — giving us back our own money to care for our kids, or spending the money for us on daycare — distinguishes the various political parties. The message that we can’t go it on our own without their beneficence, well that remains the same.
Everyone, listen up.
Eventually, no matter whom we elect to Parliament, we have to come to terms with the fact that we’re ultimately much better placed to help, and be helped by, the people around us — including ourselves — than we are to be saved by official representatives and policies. The good news is that we do still know how.
“Looking for someone 2 donate me their kidney!”
That’s the message a Maine woman painted on her SUV window last spring in an attempt to find a living donor for the kidney transplant she needed. According to the Portland Press Herald, the woman, Christine Royles, suffers from two auto-immune disorders that had caused her own kidneys to fail permanently. Royles’s message on her SUV continued: “Must have type O blood.” This was followed by a smiley face and Royles’s phone number, plus a quick reminder in parentheses that “you only need one kidney.” When Josh Dall-Leighton, a father of three, came upon the plea as he was driving with his wife in March, he immediately decided he wanted to help.
Dall-Leighton didn’t know Royles at all, but he contacted her right away. By June 16, he had donated one of his kidneys to her in a successful set of surgeries, freeing Royles from the 10-hours of dialysis she had been undergoing every night.
It’s hard to beat the story of one stranger selflessly saving another’s life, especially when the happy ending was achieved because of two individuals’ initiative and courage. That boldness and compassion wasn’t part of any program or plan; it was an act of spontaneous human kindness.
This week there was also a less dramatic, but still heartwarming, story from The Canadian Press that similarly shows off our ability to work things out together, without top-down planning. In the U.K., a Canadian graduate student named Evan Eames was facing tuition fees of over $30,000, “sending him on the hunt for frugal accommodations.”
Eames had thought the fact that he also has British citizenship would qualify him for a reduced, domestic tuition rate while studying in England. When he learned he didn’t qualify due to previous residency requirements, he got creative about his living situation.
Eames posted on Craigslist-type British website, seeking a backyard where he could set up a tent. A woman named Charley Mantack responded and the two worked out a deal where Eames would live in his tent in Mantack’s yard in exchange for Eames offering Mantack math and science tutoring twice a week to help her with the high school equivalency work she was doing.
It worked beautifully. Instead of Eames complaining about the cost of higher education or Mantack fixating on the school skills she’d missed as a girl while taking care of her siblings, the two helped each other out. Thanks to their unconventional arrangement, Eames got his masters degree at the University of Manchester for a price he was able to manage and Mantack improved her academic performance and now plans to seek a university degree in science.
When Mantack initially responded to Eames’ post, she explained that she liked “weird ideas.” That’s the key. I would never suggest an official policy of having international grad students squat on private land in tents in exchange for tutoring, because it wouldn’t work for most people. It worked for Mantack and Eames because it was a simple and mutually beneficial arrangement that made sense for them as individuals.
That is the kind of tailored solution that government will never have enough information to come up with. At the same time, that is the kind of solution every one of us has the power to create.
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