Your Money or Your Life

Your Money or Your Life


This whole debt-ceiling hostage crisis has given me a stomach ache or, more accurately, a heartache. The posturing, the vitriol, the expectation that one take a “side” and hurl insults at those on the other “side.” The insistence, by some, of total commitment to an ideology.

Some years ago, when I was teaching college writing and for a brief moment thought I’d like to teach at the high school level instead, I began taking education classes. One day, in the History of American Education class, the professor asked an ethics question. I don’t remember why he asked it, but I remember the question very well because of the response one of the students gave, an African-American woman in her late forties or early fifties, a straight-laced, serious woman. A, by her own description, devout church goer.


Here’s the question:

Your child is desperately ill and will die without a particular medication. You have a prescription for the medication, but the pharmacist, the only one in your rural area, refuses to sell it to you. He is a bigot, and refuses to sell to (fill in the blank).

Do you steal the medication, or do you let your child die?


Now the answer seems so obvious to me as to render the question ridiculous. I mean, if you want to talk ethics, give me a question that forces me to weigh the options. Who on earth would allow her child to die because a bigoted pharmacist refused to fill a legal prescription?

Well, you guessed it, the straight-laced, devout woman would have.

Stealing is wrong, she said. It’s illegal. She would never steal for any reason, she said. She would never break the law.

“You would let you child die?” I asked, stunned.

She just stared at me with icy eyes.

Let me say this: This woman, and every other individual, has a right to her world view and, yes, even to her ideology.

But I think that our ideologies, when set in stone, can cause great damage. Rigid ideology of any kind can feel comforting because we don’t have to think; we can just react. This is right. This is wrong. End of story. And, too often, we don’t have to feel, either.

What would happen if each of us stepped back from our ideology, our opinions set in stone; looked, really looked, at a situation we may be facing—a personal situation, a local situation, a national situation? What would happen if we not only allowed our minds to open but allowed our hearts to open as well?

What would it mean to our own personal well-being, to the well-being of our families, our communities, our states, our nation, our world? What would it mean to our wild horses, our wolves, our manatees, our tigers? What would it mean to our oceans, our rivers, our lakes?

What would happen if we looked, really looked into the eyes of a hungry child, into the eyes of a woman on the edge of despair, into the eyes of a man so consumed with amassing wealth that he has forgotten how to live? What would happen if we looked into the eyes of the wild creatures, recognized our own wildness in them, and chose to honor that wildness rather than destroy it?

What would happen if we—each of us—stepped back and considered solutions to our most pressing problems not only through the lens of money—how much a solution will cost, who will gain, who will consequently have to lose (because if there is a winner, there has to be a loser) but with regard, instead, to the sacredness of life?



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9 Replies to “Your Money or Your Life”

  1. I know that I would care for my child to the absolute best of my abilities, no matter what my financial and personal situation is. I have such a hard time believing there are people out there who don’t want to give their child the very best and provide for them, yet it happens every day. Children are abandoned, abused, neglected. They have to learn to care for themselves because they realize that no one loves them or cares about their well being. Unfortunately so many children in that type of position face hard lives and early deaths and for some of them, their life never does get better. Let’s say for example a particular child is left to fend for itself, gets involved with the wrong people, starts an early life of crime and incarceration. Sometimes they can get out of this cycle and create a better life for themselves. If people just showed more compassion and understanding, so much could be avoided and so many bad stories could turn around into good stories. But even then, if this child starts a new life and tries to put the past life of crime, drugs, prison behind them, they still often times face a lifetime of stigmatism. Once people find out about certain things, they are quick to judge and sometimes never let it go.

    In the instance of stealing a prescription in order to save my child, I would without a doubt steal the prescription and do anything else I could to ensure my child’s survival. I think there is definitely a line between when it is okay to steal and when it is not. Have you done everything else you could do? Is this my last resort? What will happen if I don’t find a way to make my situation change? These are all questions we would probably ask ourselves when put in a situation we wouldn’t normally be in. Whether it’s lying, stealing, or even murder. Murder is a sensitive subject too, that people have strong ideologies about. Right or wrong. There’s the man’s law and the natural law and then there is pure survival, where you are forced to find out who you really are and what you really stand for.

  2. I have considered working with troubled kids at one time. I don’t think I could do it full time, especially since there would be so many times where I would probably feel totally helpless…I can’t just adopt every child to get them out of a bad situation. I think I could definately volunteer or be a mentor where you meet with a child once a week or something like that.

  3. Hi Pam,

    I think the most sickening parts about the debt ceiling debate (and the equally sickening “results” that came out of it) are that (1) it was based on a law passed back in the 19th century when the U.S. was still on a gold standard for its currency so it should have been a non-issue in a fiat-based currency; and (2) very few people on the left bothered to use their brains to find a legitimately innovative way of resolving the debt crisis and the few who did were ignored by the brainwashed many who couldn’t seem to climb out of their narrow little ideological boxes about how they “think” money and economics works–based on faulty model.

    I suppose a third point could be that some of these Democrats need to give their head a good shake and realize that when you keep bending over backward to play “nice” and try to make compromises with a party of bullies, all that happens is that what you supposedly stand for becomes seriously compromised.

    I agree that blind, unquestioning adherence to ideologies (and theoretical models) is dangerous and often seems to be at the root of extremist thinking (along with very literal interpretations of said ideological and belief systems). However, not standing by one’s beliefs and principles is also a recipe for moral and spiritual bankruptcy. What we need to do is look at the values that underpin the ideologies and figure out how to act that does the least amount of harm and protects the most vulnerable beings (humans and critters) in our society. It’s not that difficult. Really.

  4. Agreed, re the most good. Yes we need both parts of that equation. We need to do the least amount harm and also strive to do the most good for the greatest number of beings–keeping in mind that all life is sacred.

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