ABC News analyst Matthew Dowd reports:
Sitting outside as the summer sun set in an exurban county in Michigan. I was at my brother’s house for a wedding rehearsal dinner where two extended families gathered, a whole roast pig was carved, the local Bell’s Oberon Ale (from Kalamazoo, Mich.) was served with orange slices, and my father presided as the tribal elder with cigar in hand. The conversation turned to politics and values. It could have been about the many foreclosed houses in the neighborhood that were driving prices down, or the fragile local economy that has no one really wanting to count on a comeback in the auto industry, or the Tigers having a sketchy hold on first place in their division, but it went a bit deeper than all of that.
My older sister and I asked why it is that we as a nation devote the largest portion of our federal spending on senior citizens (more than a third of the United States budget goes to people over 65 – four times more than goes to families with kids under 18), but our society doesn’t seem to value older citizens. If you look at the popular culture and how many of us like to spend our time, it is in youthful pursuits, or in highlighting the young and attractive or the latest hot trend. We devote much less time and attention to the wisdom of our seniors. An interesting irony: Our government spends the most on the older sector, and we seem to value seniors the least.
So often we argue that our country’s priorities are determined by what we spend our money on, that our values are reflected in the allocation of dollars in our society, and that shows us what is important. Sometimes that is true, but sometimes how money is spent is not about what we really value, but rather about some political calculation or a way to make us feel better about what we are doing in our everyday life that belies how that money is being spent.
This is true in many areas of our lives, I believe. Does an expensive gift given to a loved one represent how we really feel in our heart, or does it reveal the lack of an intimate connection that we seek to mollify with the dollars spent? Is our partner or friend or family member more touched by a Rolex or by the role we play in their life? Does a brand-new car fill someone’s life or is it that they feel we care? Does a pair of designer sunglasses reflect our love or the knowledge that they are seen? Does a person remember the Broadway show we took them to or the fact that we showed up when they needed us?
Yes, the way we allocate the federal budget is important, and so is the way we take care of citizens in our society, especially the poor and vulnerable. But maybe instead of arguing for a new prescription benefit for an elderly shut-in, we make a personal visit and spend some time with them. Instead of always talking about holding politicians accountable for Social Security, we might want to hold the hand of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and give them a personal sense of security. The Spanish poet and philosopher George Santayana once said, “Old places and old persons in their turn, when spirit dwells in them, have an intrinsic vitality of which youth is incapable, precisely, the balance and wisdom that come from long perspectives and broad foundations.”
As the presidential campaign unfolds in the coming months, as we face a very important election in 2012, it would be interesting to hear the leaders of both parties talking about not only how our federal dollars should be allocated but also how our time should be spent in reflection of the values we hold dear. A debate not only about the government budget, but a call for a different way to budget our time. If our society began to spend more of its money on the younger generation in building for the future, and we as people spent more of our time with the older generation in heartfelt connection, maybe this would better reflect who we all aspire to be.
I am not arguing that money isn’t crucial in confronting the problems and concerns of today’s world, but it doesn’t always reflect what we really value. There really is a distinction between money spent and what we value, and I am going to try to keep that in mind as I sit in the company of my loved ones, especially my dad in the remaining years of his life. We have been told so many times that time is money, but as a good friend pointed out to me recently, that really isn’t true. Time isn’t money. It is the most precious limited resource we have.
I can’t change Washington today, but I sure can change what I do today.