James E. Shaw: Soapbox | AspenTimes.com
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James E. Shaw: Soapbox

James E. Shaw
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

These are uncertain times that we live in. The amounts of money that our government is pledging to bail out businesses that are failing are staggering. It seems to come down to a question of confidence. The argument is that were financial firms allowed to go bankrupt, the disastrous effects would be felt, not only in America, but also around the world. It is a compelling argument that emphasizes the house of cards upon which our economy is built.

Greed and entitlement are coming home to roost. We seem to be too many generations removed from the frugal ways of the Depression Era ” from the days when people did their best to take care of themselves instead of expecting either government or insurance companies to do it. Those also were the days when a small profit was sufficient. Now it seems that the profits from investments must be on the order of obscene for people to be interested.

But the tide may be turning. The glimmer of hope that I see is that greed is losing some of its luster. We may be recognizing that obscenely wealthy people may be able to afford McMansions but our country can’t. People also are beginning to recognize that we as a country cannot afford the mentality that says that doctors and hospitals are responsible for our health. We are beginning to question the wisdom of expecting and allowing insurance companies to maintain our health instead of living healthy lives.

When my first child was born we paid the hospital and the doctor bill. Why shouldn’t we? A pregnancy is something that is a normal part of life. I grew up thinking of insurance as necessary only for the catastrophic happenings in life. A movement is under way in this country among churches for members to take care of one another ” to forego the supposed security of paying greater and greater percentages of our income to insurance companies to take on both the risks and the normal costs of health. Church members commit to taking care of one another when catastrophe strikes.

Discounts for cash payments to doctors and hospitals are a sure indication that there is a price to be paid in allowing insurance companies to pay our bills. When individuals pay their own bills they question charges, they take the time to determine whether a procedure is warranted or whether it is being ordered only as a protection against a possible lawsuit. When we pay our bills we live more connected lives ” connected to the actions we take. We feel a responsibility for our health. We don’t look to doctors, hospitals, or insurance companies as the first line of defense in maintaining health. They are the back-up team.

These changing times also are going to cause us to re-evaluate the source of our food as well. Just as we can no longer allow or expect insurance companies or our government (both may be going broke) to take care of our health, we may no longer be able to continue expecting trucking companies to bring food to us from far off places. We also might have to lose our taste for expensive packaging ” both the shipping of food and the packaging of food are highly dependent upon what are becoming expensive fossil fuels.

The economy that for generations has been driving our lives is based on some faulty presumptions ” namely that big is better, that cheap fuel always will be available, that our land, water, and air can be fouled without consequence, and that greed is good. This generation is faced with the prospect of learning a lot of tough lessons. But the encouraging thing is that the news on the financial pages of the newspaper is causing us to look at the truly important parts of our lives and to ask, “Do we have our priorities right?”

The answer, for the most part as a nation, is a resounding, “No!” To the extent that our priorities are not focused on our relationship to God, family, and community we are poorer for it. Ask anyone who has experienced the loss of health or has almost died whether his or her priorities were changed by the experience. Hardship has a way of setting us on the better path. It is my hope that these uncertain times will do the same thing for our country.


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