“We the People of the United States…” has turned out to be an ideal we are still reaching for. Our prophets, like Martin Luther King Jr., call us to live up to this ideal.
Peoplehood is a sensibility that comes most easily to people who share ethnicity and religion, but it is difficult for those with a highly mixed population as we have. Yet this is the great experiment being carried out by the United States for the whole world to see. Can we live up to the opening words of our Constitution and our national motto: E pluribus unum, out of many one.
Health care for “we the people” is a test of peoplehood that has been going on for some decades. A wide open land and an expanding economy have been major hurdles because they have encouraged a strong cultural value of self-reliance. Families encourage their young people to “make it on their own.” “Freeloaders” are despised. In such a society people distinguish themselves as “givers” in contrast to the “takers.” Add to this that society has many diverse groups, some of which are poor for complex reasons too difficult to fully understand. It must be their fault, we think, particularly if the poor are from another group that is ethnically different. Since the poor have poorer health and health care, it is easy to think of them as “freeloaders” and “takers” from “those of us who have been responsible in taking care of ourselves.”
If we look at homogeneous societies that have been geographically confined for an extended period, the people share a sensibility of peoplehood. In such societies the difficulties of the poor with health and health care are more likely to be seen as misfortunes. Such societies are seen in Scandinavia, but also throughout Europe and in other parts of the world. In such societies, people are likely to see good health care for everyone as something that benefits the whole society. If the member of a family gets sick, the well members expect to help and the sick person expects the well members to help. The sick one would do the same for other members of the family. The consciousness of the right to health care comes from the sense of being in the same family.
A sense of peoplehood would convey something of the same sense on a broader level. Sickness is seen primarily as a misfortune. Poverty itself is seen as having a large element of misfortune in it. The key is not only being able to say “we the people,” but to feel it. This is the current test that is the continuation of testing from the time of the very first declaration of “We the People.” Can we be one people? Although each person has a responsibility to do what they can to maintain their own health, there is a larger responsibility of the whole people to do what is possible to maintain the health of each person. Why? Because we are one people, but the reward is that we are all better off when we care for each one of our people. Those of us who are well may need it too. We never know.
Most of the rights we recognize and defend tend to be rights that mainly require leaving other people alone: free speech, free assembly, and freedom of religion. There is even an intangible right to freedom of thought that goes with these freedoms. (You can feel that freedom in this country if you have lived in a country where you had to be very careful what you thought and said.) But the right to health care involves taking some responsibility for others to whom we feel connected through being One People. (Other rights: to be free from hunger and homelessness are also supported by a sense of peoplehood.)
We started with the declaration “We the People…” and that belief has been tested many times. Abraham Lincoln called attention at Gettysburg to the great test of his time. Those words have inspired people all over the world. The world is watching us now. In spite of a greater diversity of people than most nations, can we demonstrate that we are “out of many, one.” There is one other ingredient that is needed and which we have sometimes seen demonstrated: love. Does love have a place in national life and policies? It may be more practical than we think.
Rev. Robert L. Montgomery, who holds a PhD in social scientific studies of religion, lives in Black Mountain.
Read or Share this story: http://avlne.ws/2uG3ADL