February 8, 2004
This article sparked some response from other readers besides the original audience.
They are included below the article.
Last week, our two nephews and niece, ages 8 to 12, ran up to us and handed us a video they had just seen; “John Q.” While it’s an older movie, they were just thrilled by it. They kept wondering aloud if we would like it. We borrowed it and this is our reply to them:
The Review of John Q
The redeeming moment of this movie was when the Father decided he would give up his own life to give his heart to his son, Mike. He would make the ultimate sacrifice. It was remarkable because, up until this moment, John Q was asking everyone else to sacrifice their talent or money; his friends, his church community, his employer, social security, the doctor and the hospital administrator. It was also quite strange that, in his “last conversation” with his son, John Q was trying to pass along moral values that he himself had not followed until that moment.
So let’s go back to the beginning. This is a truly sad story. A family struggling to get along, the breadwinner can’t find a meaningful job, and they are barely making ends meet. Mike, who dreams of being a body-builder, collapses during an after-church softball game, and at the hospital, it is discovered he will die without a heart transplant. The sadder news is that the family’s health insurance has been proportionally cut back because of the cut backs in the amount of time the Father is now working. Now, the insurance will not cover the quarter-million-dollar cost of the heart transplant. In the meeting with the doctor and hospital administrator, John pleads for a ‘favor’ to save his son’s life. When all this fails, John Q resorts to taking hostages in the hospital and demanding his son get a heart transplant or he’ll start killing people.
So that’s the basis for the story. It is indeed a sad story from many angles. Human beings suddenly find themselves in an overwhelming situation, facing the loss of a loved one and have to make life and death decisions. No sane human being wouldn’t feel compassion for this family. Yet, we can view this situation in quite different ways from what are called Liberal or Conservative points of view.
Let’s take some examples, or core issues, stressed in the movie:
John Q and his family are “poor”. From the liberal point of view, this condition is the result of many causes, but none of those causes is the individuals themselves. The causes suggested are the selfish “rich”, the bureaucratic government, or un-caring “big business;” the hospital that won’t do the operation unless they get paid, and John Q’s employer, a steel mill that is “sending our jobs overseas.” From this point of view, John is being un-fairly denied his livelihood by forces outside himself and beyond his control. But, think about it. You have to go to school every day. You’re encouraged to study and get good grades and even to attend college. Then, when you get out of college you’ll be able to get a good job and support yourself AND be able to afford good health insurance. John Q didn’t do this and, as a result, he has a job where he makes little money and is not skilled enough to be able to get a better job. Would you think it was fair for everyone in your class to be given good grades if they didn’t all study for them and pass the exams? John Q didn’t take the road to getting good grades and he’s certainly got himself into a sad situation. But it isn’t someone else’s fault, although the movie-makers would like us to think that it is.
On the other hand, the conservative point of view thinks that John Q brought his condition upon himself. Of course, he didn’t make his son’s heart fail, but neither did he take advantage of opportunities to make himself better through study and gaining skills to find a good job to support his family better. Now, conservatives don’t think this isn’t sad. It is. However, conservatives think that we should encourage people to be responsible for themselves, rather than blame others.
John Q felt the “rich” hospital was making enough money from the people who could pay for surgery and therefore they should give his son a free heart transplant. The hospital administrator was portrayed as a mean and selfish woman.
Let us ask you, would you think it’s OK to “take” a bike away from a friend who had 2 bikes and “give” it to another friend who didn’t have one? Isn’t that called stealing? You might try to convince yourself that it was OK because the one with 2 bikes didn’t “really” need both of them.
From the liberal point of view, it’s OK to take something away from you to give to someone else. In other words, they use other people’s money and resources (not their own) to give to a third party. From the liberal point of view, the administrator was mean and selfish because she didn’t give away someone else’s time and money. From the conservative point of view that would have been bad management and, actually theft, since she was giving away something she didn’t own herself.
In the conservative point of view, we encourage giving, but you give of yourself. If you think someone should have a bike, give them your own or buy one for them, if you can afford it. That’s all you have title or ownership of. You have no right to give other people’s stuff away. But it’s more than just stuff; it’s the virtue of compassion that’s learned and the goodness of giving that’s enjoyed when you give to someone in need.
This is a good example of that idea from the book we sent to you, Letters to a Young Conservative:
“… What distinguishes the government from the private sector is the power of coercion… This power of coercion, which is inherent in the nature of government, fundamentally undermines the liberal claim that the government is doing a moral thing by helping people. Let me show you why this is so. I am walking down the street, eating a sandwich, when I am approached by a hungry man. He wants to share my sandwich. Now, if I give him the sandwich, I have done a good deed, and I feel good about it. The hungry man is grateful, and even if he cannot repay me for my kindness, possibly he will try to help someone else when he has the chance. So this is a transaction that benefits the giver as well as the receiver. But see what happens when the government gets involved. The government takes my sandwich from me by force. Consequently, I am a reluctant giver. The government then bestows my sandwich upon the hungry man. Instead of showing me gratitude, however, the man feels entitled to this benefit. In other words, the involvement of the state has utterly stripped the transaction of its moral value, even though the result is exactly the same.” — Dinesh D’Souza
Remember the crowd outside the hospital as the hostage situation was happening? They were on John Q’s side, but they wanted someone else to help him. Did you see one of them step forward to help with money or ideas or any help themselves? It’s very easy to want to give away something that doesn’t belong to you, but that’s not compassion or help.
If someone doesn’t have to earn their privileges in life for themselves, if they don’t take responsibility for themselves, they will get into the lazy habit of expecting someone else to give it to them. That kind of situation leads to some very awful people deciding for you that you don’t need very much. Remember those escaped Cubans we met last summer at the parade? When the power to “give” you the things you need in life has been handed over to others, they might just become mean and keep that power, AND those things, for themselves.
On the way out of the courtroom John Q was applauded as though he was some kind of Robin Hood hero, instead of for making the right choices in his life and providing for his son in the first place. Of course, it’s all very well and just and right to give anything of your own for someone else, but that didn’t seem to be what the movie was telling us.
So let’s go back to Robin Hood. Remember him, stealing from the “rich” to give to the poor. That was in another period of human history when poor people, no matter what they did, could not own anything. They were “subjects” of the King and couldn’t own a thing, not their farms, not even their own homes. They couldn’t work for money and make themselves better, so Robin Hood was a real hero back then. But we live in a very different world now and people can take advantage of the freedom and all the opportunities that this great country has to offer them and they can get good jobs and, with their wealth, they can even help out in parts of the world where things are still bad. Look at Secretary of State Colin Powell. His parents came here from a Caribbean Island as poor people and he himself was poor until he joined the army and began to feel he should take control of his life. There’s Thomas Sowell, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many great people who have come up from the depths of poverty to gain a stable, secure place in the world where they don’t have to worry about lack of things.
So what did we think about the movie? It was slanted and biased toward an attitude that people shouldn’t feel responsible for their own problems. Now it’s not that black and white in life. Things happen that we don’t have control over and just about every single one of us has made some very bad decisions. Just think of the opening scenes of the movie. There was a woman driving carelessly. She must have been one of those “rich” people because she was well-dressed, driving an expensive car and listening to classical music. But she made some bad decisions on the last day of her life. She decided to pass a big truck even though she couldn’t see the road ahead. That was a really bad mistake and she was killed because of what she did. That’s how the real world is… we have to accept the consequences of our actions. However, a good thing came out of it, the dead woman’s heart was available to replace little Mike’s bad one. That, too, is how the real world is. And that’s a good thing.
Again, the liberal attitude suggests we should always think our problems are someone else’s fault, and other people who don’t even know us or care about us should feel sorry for us and make things all right for us. The conservative attitude says everyone should accept responsibility for their own lives, figure out where they went wrong, try to correct their mistakes and go on with their life. It sure doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t help someone in trouble, but that person should realize that you are a good, compassionate person and that your helping is a gift, not something that’s “owed” to them. When they do, they will try to be more self-sufficient themselves and maybe take care of someone else when they can help. In other words, the conservatives believe it’s just great to give from yourself to another, in fact, it’s an honor; but to take from a third party to give to another is just stealing. It would be a better world for all of us if we didn’t “steal” from others and pretend that we’re being good.
Aunt Helen and Uncle Peter
At 05:24 AM 2/11/2004 -0500, Someone wrote:
Great Article but I have a little problem. Sometimes the external locus of control can not be controlled. This little boy had only so much time left and his father “HAD” to get the down payment even before getting on the list. So he did the reasonable thing at first took out savings, wanted to work longer hours, asked friends and church for money but when that didn’t help then he had to do something. He even asked of paying it off slowly. But they administrator said “NO” now that was just wrong. I mean he was offering to pay it all but slowly. He was trying but when he see it didn’t work he went to other means.
I think it was a very nice movie, I don’t think he did was right but what would you do?
I think the hospital gave them no choice.
Thank you for your feedback. Your reply suggests that trying is all that’s necessary. Yes, it’s surely admirable to try, but that’s only half the picture. Why do we ‘try’ anything? In order to succeed. If we decide that trying is all we need, without following through to succeeding, then the doctor might have tried but failed, the hospital might have tried but failed, the helicopter pilot might have tried but failed and so on….but that would be OK because they tried. Right? Of course not. What sort of society would that be? We really want to live in a society where people are successful, or another word for that is dependable. Or, on a lighter note, when was the last time you made a million dollars just because you tried? It’s achieving the goal that’s important.
Schools and society are placing too much emphasis on trying and too little emphasis on achieving. We’ve got to change that attitude. We’ve got to strike the proper balance between trying and succeeding; between intentions and results. (The greatest rift between Liberals and Conservatives is the difference between intentions and results-oriented programs. ) We’ve also got to take the long view of the circumstances of our lives and take responsibility for our actions. Can we foresee every trouble that might come to us? Of course not, but we can stack the deck in our favor. One way is to begin respecting success rather than just trying.
Yes, John Q told the hospital he would try to pay it off over time. He was making less than $20,000 a year; it would take more than 12 years… if he didn’t buy food, clothing, housing for himself and his family. No doubt he was sincere in his intention, but he was making an empty promise. If you wanted to buy a million dollar home, the bank would look at ‘how’ you could pay for it, not just take your word that you would ‘try’ to pay for it. In other words, saying you would try wouldn’t be enough. You would have to prove that you could succeed, before someone else would take over your risk. Sorry, but that’s the world we live in and actually most people would like it to be that sort of world; whether for products we buy that we expect to really work, doctors or other professionals who should achieve their goal (especially when operating on us!)… utilities that should work, and on and on.
If you’d like to read more of our philosophy please visit our website. Following is one of our articles that ties in with this subject. For you see being responsible for your actions, achieving the goal, is a process of personal growth, it’s not just making the bad circumstances “go away.”
“Having No Money Doesn’t Mean You’re Poor”
There’s a proverb about sailing on the notoriously shallow Chesapeake Bay, “If you haven’t run aground at least once, either you’re not sailing or you’re lying.” And so in every life, if you have never found yourself wondering where you’re going to get the money to meet your financial obligations, either you’re not responsible for yourself or you’re lying. However, even if you only had a nickel in your pocket, we wouldn’t necessarily say you were poor.
There’s a difference between simply being ‘broke’ and being ‘poor.’ Almost every one of us has been broke at some point in our lives. Sometimes it was an intentional choice, like subsisting on a part time job while going to school. Sometimes it’s just bad luck or the consequence of bad choices. Life sometimes has its downs and we adjust; that’s broke. But, when we give up trying to better ourselves, that’s poor. And lack of money isn’t the defining factor of poverty.
The difference between broke and poor is not a new concept. We’ve known for ages that if someone doesn’t work toward something themselves they don’t value it. The “greatest generation,” who lived through the Depression and went on to win the second World War tried to give their kids everything they had to work hard for themselves. But they couldn’t ‘give’ them the values and stamina that made their success possible. That was the difference between the war against Hitler and the “War on Poverty.” Just look at the housing projects to see what happens to something given to someone who has the poverty mindset. We’ve seen the same cycle with many lottery winners or rock stars; suddenly they’re rich but, within a short time they’re bankrupt. Remember that old adage, you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy. The same holds true for the poverty mindset. We can’t just throw money at poor people or the poor countries of the world, or even a poor cousin and expect them to suddenly have the motivation to make something of themselves.
Dr. Ruby Payne has written a great book for educators, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” In it she lists eight resources a person must draw on to abolish poverty or the ‘poor’ attitude. Money is only one of them; the others are emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationship/role models. The eighth, and most interesting, factor is Knowledge of Hidden Rules. She explains that in each class there are unspoken rules of conduct and behavior. To escape the poverty mindset, new rules must be adopted.
So what are the implications for our national welfare system and the global welfare system? That just giving money away doesn’t eliminate poverty; that we’re actually creating more poverty by down-playing or distorting the other seven resources a person needs to become self-sufficient. President Bush’s Millennium fund is one response to the hard problem of poverty in other nations, but it doesn’t get alot of press and the poor countries, which might benefit from it, are trying to change its un-hidden rules. Why? Because they must live up to certain standards in order to receive funds. In other words, they must ‘work’ for the money and that doesn’t hold with the so-called Liberals of the world.
Of course we can’t ‘give’ anyone emotional stability or mental clarity. All we can do is expect it, and reward it. Failure will provide its own corrective stimulus… if we don’t intervene with a mis-guided ‘compassion’ that attempts to ‘protect’ people from learning the error of their ways. As a society, we must demand that people accept the consequences of their own actions. We can expect that people must learn the difference between right and wrong. We can’t take all the evil influences and bad people out of the world, but we can expect that people learn to recognize them for what they are and reject them, for their own benefit.
We all have a role to play by our expectations, as expressed in law. The so-called compassion that makes pets out of welfare recipients has to be re-examined. If we are to survive as a society, we must expect the best from people. Money alone won’t solve the poverty problem.
At 07:19 PM 2/10/2004 -0500, Someone wrote:
I am writing in response to your John Q review. The premise of your article – the distinguishing factors of liberals leading to the gimmee attitude of John Q – is flawed. In the United States we are subject to the law and government, much like during the times of Robin Hood people were subject to the King. Accordingly, John Q cannot be completely blamed for his position in life. Yeah he didn’t go to college, but there are many reasons why that may be. In many instances the school system one is “subject” to may have a great influence on where one ends up later in life. Yeah, you can take isolated individuals, who represent a small percentage of a given community (like Colin Powell) but the students who come from failing schools K-12 who don’t go to college aren’t always because they were lazy. I am now in graduate school, but come from the south side of Chicago, and comparing the people I grew up with to the people I go to school with I see that opportunity has to do with more than just applying oneself. Often it has more to do with the stability of one’s family, the strength of one’s school, and the opportunities that one sees available. These are all things people are “subject” to in the United States, and have very little control over.
Thank you for your feedback. However… to suggest that Americans are ‘subject’ to the rule of law “much like” the Britons were ‘subjects’ of the King is simply incorrect. The King literally ‘owned’ his subjects and they themselves owned nothing. The Revolutionary war was fought to alter the terms of our subjection to the King. Further, the distinction between ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’ is key to understanding the philosophical differences between contemporary ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’. We do not ‘blame’ John Q for his position in life, but he is certainly ‘responsible’ for his responses to the position he finds himself in, as are we all. His ultimate response to the intolerable anguish he felt upon discovering that he simply “didn’t have enough money” to buy his son’s health, was to put a gun to someone else’s head and lock in a bunch of innocent (but symbolically useful) hostages.
The movie didn’t overtly refer to his childhood, but his symbolic significance (poor-but-honest, hard-working, blue-collar, black, caring father) filled in those stereotypical blanks for us, just as it did for you. He was badly let down by “the system” that he had expected to look after him and his family in the event of catastrophe. His one legitimate beef was that either his employer or his insurance company should have promptly informed him of the reduction in his policy’s coverage.
Yes, he found himself in an unfortunate situation and, yes, it wasn’t his fault and, yes, it was ‘heart-warming’ to see the abuser kicked in the nuts by the abused and, yes, it was decent of John Q to release the ‘minority’ mother and the pregnant black couple and, yes, it was almost redemptive to finally discover that the gun wasn’t loaded and that the father had intended to sacrifice his own life for the sake of his son’s and, yes, it was a nice Hollywood-Happy-with-a-poignant-3-to-5-year-twist ending. Another message-from-the-movie that we did not want to stress to our pre-teen nephews and niece, was that, in America, you can make things happen with a gun.
No, ours would not have been a happy ending. What we did want to stress to our young audience, aside from the value of an education, was that the protagonist (John Q. Public) had been misled by the liberal-backed illusion that “it’s not my fault and somebody should do something.” His disillusionment was so great that, rather than face the (unhappy) truth, he forcibly deprived others of their liberty and threatened their lives in order to get what he, erroneously, felt he was owed.
You are to be congratulated for your ‘rise’ from the south side to graduate school, unless you feel that you had nothing to with it, that it was entirely a result of conditions beyond your control. Sometimes it’s easy to take “credit” for our achievements but decide it’s someone out there that caused our failures. There is no question that we are profoundly influenced by our environment; family, school, community, but there is also no question that ‘opportunity’ is not simply a set of circumstances. Rather, it is a product of the interaction of one’s attitude with one’s environment. Evidently, you saw opportunities that were invisible to others in your neighborhood.
Along these same lines is an article we did a few years ago. Basically, if we think the system is oppressive, then we can’t succeed in it either. If it is to blame for holding people down, it can’t also be responsible for helping people succeed. In fact, the system is neutral, it’s what we do with it that’s important!
We had a client who came to us with problems of drugs, alcohol and unemployment. He told a sad story of a childhood dominated by his father, who always told him to fear God, keep a clean body and mind and be sure he’s gainfully employed whether he liked the job or not. Our client then told us reasonably and knowledgeably how he likes the philosophy of self-responsibility we teach and is drawn to it. He was almost apologetic when he told us that because his father always told him to “fear God”, we should immediately understand why “your stuff won’t work for me.” In other words, he wouldn’t believe that our technique would be effective on his problems because he had no control over his beliefs.
We asked him, since he had “no control” over accepting one belief from his father, why he hadn’t also accepted the others, which would have minimized or prevented his drug and unemployment problems. Surprised, he admitted that he, himself had chosen the belief in a “fearsome God” as a blanket excuse for all his screw-ups, and finally, that he was blaming his father for his own failures because he didn’t want to acknowledge his own responsibility.
We often have people very seriously and sincerely detail the reasons why they “have to believe” something, and, at the same time, ignore or deny their own responsibility for choosing those reasons. It’s their Board of Directors, their parents, their spouse or anyone else who suggested the reasons, but they conveniently forget that they chose to believe them. For if they honestly look at ALL the suggestions that body of “authority” made to them, they usually didn’t accept all of them; even totally ignored many of them. They only chose to accept or “believe” the ones that suited their own needs.
It’s a subtle way we all have of putting the blame on someone else.
Another way to blame someone else is to say we were “just going along” with their decision. We can say it seemed “the right thing to do”. We can seem loving and kind or even giving of ourselves, but in reality, what we are doing is creating a back door in case the going gets rough. In other words, we can take the credit if everything turns out all right, or we can blame the other if it goes wrong. Again, we are not taking responsibility for our own actions. And we can tell the world, “because of my kind and loving nature I just didn’t have control over the decision.”
We’re not saying that we’re not ever influenced by others. We sure are, and in some cases, we consciously choose to give some of our power away. That’s OK, as long as were are aware of what we’ve done and consciously acknowledge it. We create problems for ourselves (and others) when we pretend that “they made me do it.”
It may not be pleasant to acknowledge the subtle ways we try to place the responsibility for our lives on someone else. However, once we’ve accepted that we do, we can make progress and begin to correct this behavior.
So the next time you notice yourself saying that someone “made you do it”, ask yourself; do you accept all their decisions? and/or are you setting them up as a possible scapegoat?
How much responsibility are you taking for your life?