September 3, 1999 Halifax Herald

Bleeding the disadvantaged an unforgivable sin

A short story in the May 24 issue of People Magazine, entitled “House Divided,” provided an excellent example of how mean and selfish modern society is becoming.

Following is the gist of the story. A regular customer tipped a restaurant's five employees with lottery tickets. Later that day, a female employee discovered that her ticket was worth $10 million. She refused to share the prize with her four co-workers. They took it to court, claiming that tips were always pooled and shared equally. The court agreed and ordered the prize split five ways: 2 million each.

The before-mentioned behaviour was bad enough, but it gets worse. One would think that the recipients of such a windfall would be very grateful towards the man who made it possible and reward him accordingly. Not so. The customer says that he was promised a new pickup truck if someone won a jackpot with one of his tickets. Said one of the winners, with a sigh: "He never told me anything about a pickup truck.." The cost of a good pickup in the United States would probably run around $20,000. It would have taken only a meagre $4,000 out of each share to pay for it.

In my endeavours to understand such unworthy human behaviour, I've heard or read the opinions of many diverse people. One of the best I read was an article by Mormon Church Elder Neal A. Maxwell. A few quotes:

"The early and familiar forms of selfishness are: building up self at the expense of others, claiming...credit (when none is due), being glad when others go wrong, resenting the genuine success of others...

“By focusing on himself, a selfish person finds it easier to bear false witness, to steal, to covet, since nothing could be denied him... Selfishness...causes us to be discourteous, disdainful and self-centered, while withholding from others needed goods, praise and recognition as we selfishly pass them by and notice them not...

“In contrast to the path of selfishness, there is no room for road rage on the straight and narrow way. There will be no abuse...when there is unselfish love... The unselfish are more free. As G. K. Chesterton said, if we can be interested in others, even if they are not interested in us, we will find ourselves ‘under a freer sky, [and] in a street full of splendid strangers.’"

The sins of greed and selfishness cause grief for many members of society, including the mean ones themselves. Perhaps the best example of the harm caused by these sins is the plight of the work force of the federal government:

Today, a great many labour in the public service for only one reason: what they can get. Dedication is secondary. Since this change in attitude came about, various categories of public servants have been so successful at enhancing their take that tens of thousands of their peers have lost their jobs. The remainder have no job security. Personal gain has made the public service into an expensive luxury that is pricing itself out of existence.

Then there is the shenanigans of private enterprise. Fortunately for the consumer, the majority of business people are of moral bent. However, it is becoming more fashionable, especially among some of the really big corporations, to coldly make unconscionable profits. It isn't rare to find instances where unwarranted price increases have occurred, or where plants have been closed, throwing thousands out into the street, not because the plants were losing money, but just to increase profits. Human suffering is not a consideration.

In view of the greed abounding today, it seems impossible to envision that once there were sharing societies (particularly in ancient North America). For the citizens of such societies, it would have been unthinkable not to share; greed and selfishness were traits that were unknown. The societal standard they achieved for community responsibility probably will never again be reached.

However, we must make an effort to do so. If not, inclinations towards self-indulgence - a sin that blinds one to the misery of others - will destroy us. Perhaps the effects of this sin is no better expressed than by the actions of the well-off who demand non-essential public services, creating a tax rate that makes Canada increasingly unattractive to investors. This keeps the unemployment rate high. Thus, many less-fortunate citizens try to acquire essential goods and services without jobs. If the well-off would consider how their demands negatively affects the poor, a lot of society's ills would be cured.

Another good example of how prevalent meanness is today is the question of how to spend the federal surplus. Tax relief for the rich, the middle class, etc., are being espoused, but the poor have been forgotten. Aside from the people suffering from it, how many out there appreciate that many individuals, families, elderly couples, etc., are paying sizable income taxes on annual incomes of less than $20,000? Using the budget surplus to exempt these people from such taxes is the right thing to do. Permitting the poor to be bled for the benefit of the financially empowered is inexcusable!

Daniel N. Paul


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