Taxes. Government. Happiness?

“The government is in the business of forcing people to do what they might not otherwise do.” Page 171 Reasonable Atheism

I read the book Reasonable Atheism and beyond all the talk about religion the above sentence stood out to me the most. Complaining about taxes is one of the favorite hobbies of our country. The only sure things are death and taxes as the old saying goes. There will likely always be some need for taxes. Not many roads get built by themselves or by private entities, although even that has been different in the past.Toll roads are evidence of that, so perhaps complete capitalism is what we are looking for? I don’t think it’s quite that simple, but I digress. A lot of our taxes are used to take care of others, via Social Security, Medicare, Pell Grants for colleges, paying for high school for families who can’t afford it, food stamps and many other ways.

If we don’t want the government taking our money to help those in need, we need to take responsibility for them ourselves. If we are unwilling to do that then we need to submit to government to take care of them when we are unwilling. We need to be less selfish.

We all have to feel at some level or another that what we are doing is a bit ridiculous. We, the majority of Americans and the rest of the people in the 1st world, live in excess. We have all we need. Food. Water. Shelter. We spend our time playing with toys or chasing after sexual partners or numbing our senses to the point that we think we are enjoying ourselves. We challenge each other on who has the fastest car or the nicest lawn, who has the highest score in the newest videogame or who’s 401k is the biggest. We complain about the latest sports scandal. Deflated footballs? Really? Isn’t there something more important we could talk about anything?

There is, but we aren’t too often talking about it. We are comfortable. We read the new articles about those who are committing violence and we are assured that they are off base. They are insane. They need to rethink their lives. They need help. But not from us….. Someone else needs to help them.

Perhaps they have asked for help time and time again but no one has listened? Perhaps they don’t know how to ask for help anymore, so like children when they are ignored, they act out with violence to gain our attention.

Perhaps we should start doing what we might not otherwise not do. Of utmost importance, taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. If you don’t know anyone who is in need, that is your fault not theirs. Have you asked? Perhaps you do know someone in need but they are too embarrassed to ask for help. This is partially due to how we have stigmatized needing help in our world. We value individuality so much that to need help is seen as weakness and often if you need help you are given less and treated as though you deserve your fate.

Perhaps you are so tuned into your wants that you can’t even see the needs others have. Perhaps you choose to ignore it because it makes you uncomfortable. It should! We are too comfortable while there are people who sleep on the street! Who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Who don’t even have access to clean water!

When was the last time you stopped and thought “I have enough.” Likely not as recent as the last time you said “I need to buy a bigger TV, couch, house, car.” Recognizing when you have enough and when it might be time to start helping someone else is when you will start to find true happiness.

What if we all started worrying about how we could affect our community for the better instead of just how we could make our lives materially better?

Reaching Your Childhood Dreams

Sometimes when I was in middle school I would bike to school. It was 1 mile down the highway or about 5 miles on the back roads. The back roads were ½ dirt. The specific day I’m writing about, my brother and I were biking down the highway and went past the one gas station in our 150 person town.

There was a guy who was in high school while I was in middle school. He had bought a 1970’s Firebird. I saw him leaving the gas station and saw 2 girls in the car with him. I was already attracted to girls, although I didn’t know why. I told myself that I wanted to get a fast car so I could get the girls.

I remember when I was a sophomore in highschool I was talking with a friend just waiting to get my license the next year. We hadn’t had much success with girls thus far, but I was sure that once I got my license I’d be picking up all the girls. Boy was I mistaken. Looking back, unsurprisingly, getting a license didn’t change my behavior towards women any and thus I didn’t pick up any girls, at least not for that reason.

Now I’m 25. I have partnered with The Job Foundation and I am mentoring 2 young boys. I occasionally take them for rides in my 2007 Mustang GT. They have some racing games for their video games and I they really like my car.

In a similar situation, the other day  was riding my 2008 GSXR 600 and stopped at a gas station. A kid yelled at me from the back seat of his parents SUV “Nice Rocket!”. I smiled. There were 5 Harley’s parked at the other end of the gas station. The kid didn’t see them. He just saw what he thought was cool. I wonder if that kid will look back and remember me some day?

These stories make me pause and reflect on what growing up really means. Sure I am a pretty fortunate guy and relatively happy but I am always looking for more. How to make a bigger difference. How to have more toys. I’m finally starting to question what the right goals are. I don’t have all the answers yet, but just taking the time to think “I’m that guy that I wanted to be as a kid”, at least in some aspects is a pretty cool feeling.

Did you have any memories of what you wanted to do or be or have from when you were a kid? Have you reached any of those goals? Did they make you happy? Did you set new goals part way through?


There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.Jan Schakowsky

Somedays I get so frustrated with the world. There seems to be so much “bad” happening. There’s a huge boxing fight that millions of people are excited about but then a few complain that one of the boxers has been tried for domestic abuse. There is a huge earthquake ½ way around the world that I sure feel like I can’t help the victims and if I do donate to some charity that’s helping where’s my assurance that the money actually helps? Even in my own city there are shootings seemingly every week! I don’t know any of the people who are shot or how to stop it. I feel helpless.

For a while I’ve been trying to stop and actually talk with homeless people instead of just handing them money when I see them sitting by the road. I feel like if I spend some time to get to know them that perhaps I can help more than just handing them money. I finally saw the opportunity last week and built up enough courage to stop. I parked my car and walked up to the man. He was sitting on a gas can eating a Snickers. I asked him how he was and introduced myself. He said “Hello” and that his name was Giovanni. After asking a few questions all the answer I got was that he didn’t speak English much. Not a great start. I continued trying to ask a few questions.
Where are you from? What are you looking for? Do you need anything?

What I got was that he was from Romania. Apparently he had 2 kids and a brother in Phoenix, AZ. Why he was here I still was not able to understand. Another man, Greg, came walking up and introduced himself also. We talked a little more and just weren’t getting much. I handed Giovanni some money and my phone number and email address and told him if he needed help to let me know. Greg said he’d fill up the gas tank. We walked back to Greg’s truck and he and I talked a little. Giovanni started to motion to me that he wanted to talk again so I walked back to him. He motioned over to his van. I cautiously walked over there. Of course it was a suspicious looking vehicle. 2002 Ford Conversion van with all the window shades down. I was not sure if he was going to try to shoot me? Who knows in situations like that? He ended up not shooting me. Thank God. He said his van was not running good. I told him I’d come back to the same spot the next day after work and look at it for him.

The next day I was pretty excited. I was ready to help someone in need fix their broken car. This was basically what I had been training to do after years of fixing up cars! A friend at work asked what I was up to that night so I told him helping a guy I had just met fix his car. The friend was immediately skeptical replying “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Well that was not the reaction I was expecting. He then proceeded to tell me that he was skeptical of anyone who needed help and that they were likely to scam you in some way. I asked for any specific times he had tried to help someone and something bad had resulted. He couldn’t tell me of any actual instances but he did assure me his dad had some stories.

Next I asked another friend if he’d come along with me. He agreed but also shared his skepticism with me that we should be careful and that Giovanni might be just setting us up to be sued. Great! Two friends, both sure some guy I’m trying to help is only trying to scam me. Now I know why people are so reluctant to help others. The risk to reward sure seems small! I assured my friend that we’d be very careful to not do anything that seemed like it’d make us liable for anything.

I appreciated my friends advice.  After work we headed over to the spot I had agreed to the day before with Giovanni. I was happy to have a friend along since I wasn’t fully sure what I was getting into.Giovanni was there with his wife, who also spoke no English. I had brought an OBD II scanner so I plugged it into the car. It provided very few codes and none that actually told us anything was specifically wrong. I asked Giovanni to drive the car and volunteered to ride along. He and his wife both insisted that I drive but after the talks from my friends I was playing it very safe. I assured them that if there was something so wrong we’d be able to tell it from riding. We drove around a bit and my friend and I could not tell anything was wrong. We drove it to the auto parts store and asked them to perform the same diagnostic test for a second opinion. They found the same issues we did and said there was likely nothing to wrong. We thanked him and asked Giovanni to drive us back to the store. We bought a wrench and he started taking off a few parts, insisting that he’d show us what was wrong. He had told us it was the spark plugs and then that it was a few other parts. All of these we assured him were ok. Eventually having determined that there was nothing that we could do and basically telling that to Giovanni he shook our hands, said Thank You and we walked away.

I sure felt like a failure. I hadn’t fixed his car. Of course I also couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I talked with my friend about it and he assured me that we had done everything in our power at that time to help. Is that true I will never know.

Reflecting on that situation, one of the real challenges was lack of communication. True it was exacerbated by the language barrier but overall I think we understood what he was saying. That his car didn’t run good. That was not confirmed to us by the testing that we did. We were not able to clearly identify Giovanni’s need so we could not provide him the help he thought he needed. We also didn’t really understand if he was looking for work here. Why he was her and not by his kids and brother in Phoenix? Was he an illegal alien? He had shown me some papers saying he had a legal entry to the US.

This helped me think more about need. How do we know when someone is in need? Often we don’t. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have good communication with others. Perhaps it’s because people are hiding their actual needs from us because they don’t want us to think less to them? Is it a pride thing? Perhaps others don’t actually have any need?

The problem is we as a society have gotten so used to lying to each other. We do it all the time. Any magazine you read is a lie, especially the fitness magazines. We look at sculpted abs and huge muscles and it tells us we should look like that. “They” promise us this look will come easy and fast if we buy their pill. The lie comes in when the hours at the gym or the dollars spent on surgery or steroids are not mentioned. We are too obsessed with appearance.

This crosses over into our personal lives also. People are ashamed to admit that they need help for fear they will be looked down upon. Thus, we lie to each other that we are not in need. Truthfully everyone is in need of  something. Often we try to cover up our needs by focusing on something else. Usually it’s “good times”. We neglect the important aspects of our lives but spend time partying to make it feel better. Often the partying includes things that are actually harmful to us, like drinking 10+ beers, watching porn or going to a strip club. These things will make us feel happy for a short time but eventually they will make us feel worse.

Romans 12:4-8

4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

None of us is a self made man, no matter how much you are inclined to think that. Once you make an connection and show you are willing to do a little work you will open more opportunities for yourself. Based on that, I believe we have a duty to our fellow man to help him when he is down, as we’ve all been there before and someone helped us. Often we forget the hard times when we get to the top. We only look for more to satisfy our continual hunger for success. How do we start to get ourselves back on track as a society? Perhaps we should start valuing what is actually good for us instead of what just feel good at the moment? Lets have more serious conversations at work or just with our neighbor. And after we have those conversations lets go out and DO something about the injustices we have talked about. The most important thing is to not talk ourselves out of doing something because of the tiny possibility of something bad happening to us. Ask yourself, what is the chance that bad thing actually happens? Like my story above, the likelihood is very small, especially if you are careful with what you do.

I leave you with this message from the Beatles and the challenge to expand who you think of as “your friends”.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles