Right now it's chic to dislike the government; in fact, in some circles you are considered a fool not to. Yet it is so easy to overlook the ways in which we rely upon it every day. Fresh food, highways, the internet, police enforcement, the military, education, OTC drug regulation--you name it, all of these aspects of our lives, like it or not, are impacted, if not downright possible, because of the government.
The complex world that we live in--in which very few of us grow our own food, make our own clothing, dispose of our own garbage--demands that we rely ever more visibly on others.
When I take an aspirin because I strained my back working in the garden, I'm assuming that the drug is safe. And it is, because it has been tested and regulated by the FDA. The internet that I am using to blog right now was subsidized by the U.S. government; the roads that I drive on were commissioned and contracted out by the state of NJ.
Here is an amazing example of the often unnoticed help that we receive from others. It's an article about Dr. Frances Kelsey whose work for the US FDA during the 1950s kept the dangerous drug thalidomide out of the country. Despite enjoying the benefit of Dr. Kelsey's courage, I never knew her name until this morning. The article states that,
"[the] tragedy was largely averted in the United States, with much credit due to Kelsey. ... For a critical 19-month period, she fastidiously blocked its approval while drug company officials maligned her as a bureaucratic nitpicker."
Too many people hate the government but enjoy its benefits, or worse, don't even recognize that they rely upon it every time they drink a glass of clean water, eat a safe meal, and use their electricity. It's a form of mental isolationism.
This is not a political post about the need for government; it's a reminder of interdependence, the central teaching in Mahayana Buddhism.
We are constantly depending on others, just as others depend upon us. Recognizing those connections is vital to developing responsibility and cultivating compassion. In the Five Mountain Zen Order of which I am a member, we try to enact the Bodhisattva vow by continuously asking, "How may I help you?"
Dr. Kelsey embodied that question through her hard work and courage. She did help us and continues to do so even now that she is gone. Thank you, Dr. Kelsey.
And thanks to my wife for sharing the article with me!