We make hundreds of choices every day. In the aggregate these choices constitute our priorities in life. Opting to stay late to finish up something at work instead of catching your kids recital becomes a pattern when repeated. Over a period of time and through a series of decisions, priorities are determined.
As difficult as these choices are to us as individuals, prioritizing becomes overwhelming in the public sphere. With so many competing interests, arriving at a consistent theme among all of the available options is daunting. Some goals get neglected and some outcomes become muted amidst the cacophony of competing interests. We see this most clearly now when we look at the inept management of our federal budget.
I confronted this challenge head-on in the collective when I visited DC last week for Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day. Having finally gotten a bill passed that would increase research funding for the most recalcitrant cancers (i.e., pancreatic and lung) earlier this year, budgets for these efforts are actually being decreased because of sequestration. This represents the ultimate abdication of decision-making responsibility – just cut everything indiscriminately.
One mischaracterization of the issue is that we (the U.S.) don’t have the money for life-saving research. In an annual budget of approximately $3.80 trillion, it is disingenuous of our leaders to say that we can’t afford to allocate a couple of extra tens of millions to decrease the number of cancer deaths. (The National Cancer Institute budget is a mere $5 billion.) To my elected leaders I say - you have opted to spend lots of money to bring about much less collective good based on the advice of countless corporate lobbyists. (I bumped into the Halliburton crew at The Capital last week.) When you tell us that we can’t afford something, I would like to remind you that we will spend $673 billion on our military this year, as much as the next ten nations combined. The money is being spent. It is for us to decide what we spend it on. You allow billions of corporate taxes to go uncollected from the likes of Apple and GE - money that could be used to help the afflicted. If the Bible is true when it says in Matthew, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – what do our resource decisions say about us?
I understand that it’s tough for you to tell a cancer survivor or someone who has lost a loved one that you would rather not allocate resources to help them. To say that you can’t is a cowardly lie. It makes me angry to be lied to so blatantly. Let’s at least be honest about the choices that you are making on our behalf.
Whether on the national or personal level, insisting that there are no (other) options belies either a lack of imagination or integrity. It is an admission that one is not willing to make the effort on a difficult choice. In our own lives, resisting inertia or challenging long-held sacred cow assumptions is not easy. It is easier, albeit disingenuous, to say that something can’t be done rather than admit that I choose not to.
I believe that our responsibility to each other as members of an interdependent community – whether it is a family, team, church or nation – is to keep each other honest. To allow our lies and self-deceptions to go unchallenged is to condone a deliberate falling short of our ideals. It is allowing us to achieve less than our potential, less than the individuals and society that God empowered us to be. I’d like to see doing the very best that we can for each other and ourselves be the priority every time.