Monday, January 23, 2012

Change Your Verb; Change Your Attitude

One of the most noteworthy concerns of the last 25 years has been the Health Care problem, especially with the aging population. I call it a problem, simply because I choose to use that word to describe this concern, and, being a writer, words are important to me.

And when it comes to health, there’s one little, four-letter word that really causes me to react.

I’ve had my own health care since I was 17 years old. That’s when I entered the Air Force. After my military service, I again acquired my own health care when I joined the Philadelphia Police Department.

People often told me how fortunate I was that the city of Philadelphia “gave” me health benefits while I was employed by the city.  Just like they “gave” me a salary, I suppose.

I didn’t think that my health benefits were something given; I was naive enough to believe I worked for them. That word—give—was the one that for a long time has drawn a reaction from me.

I first started to have trouble with the word “give” back in the late 1960s. People tend to forget (or ignore) what was happening back then, but I was a cop at the time, and many major US cites were literally set aflame during the upheaval of the 60s. By the time the decade was ending, Congress was holding televised hearings to ascertain just why so many of our major cities were the target of urban riots.

I especially remember two distinct citizens who testified in front of that panel.

One, a middle-aged naturalized American, had explained that when he first came to this country, there was no work to be had, so he took bricks and learned the brick-laying trade, starting a career that enabled him to support himself.

The other, a young urban resident who was born here, said that, “Nobody gave me any bricks to build with, so that’s why I’ve been throwing them.”

I was still in my 20s at the time, but I immediately saw the flaw in the latter’s reasoning, even though the Congressional panel sided with his viewpoint.  (No surprise there!)

There were two things wrong with his statement, as I saw it. First, if he had the bricks to throw, where did he get them? And why throw them? Why not build with them as the first man did?

Second, and most erroneous, I felt, was his dependency on the verb, “give”—that four-letter word that could “push my button,” as today’s cliché implies. And that young man used the word quite a bit, as I recall.

“Nobody gives me a chance.”
“Nobody gives me a job.”
“Nobody gives me respect.”

I personally would have advised him (and anyone with those oral inclinations) to jettison the word “give” from his everyday vocabulary as often as possible, because it was—and still is—seriously over-worked.

You see, I believe he was using the wrong verb. As young as I then was, I knew that nobody gives you a chance.
You take a chance.

Nobody gives you a job.
You win a job.

And most assuredly, nobody—no one—gives you respect.
That, you must earn.

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