Tony Woodlief | Author

Aid Versus Care

Several days ago I was eating with my family in one of our favorite little restaurants, when I noticed from our table by the window a man in an electric wheelchair rolling slowly toward the entrance. After several seconds I realized that he had not come through the door. It occurred to me that he might be having trouble; this restaurant has two successive single doors at its entrance, creating a small sealed foyer to keep the temperature inside consistent. True to the form of many small family eateries, it has no handicapped access.

I got up and went to the door, and sure enough, this fellow was stopped just outside. He barely had movement in the hand he used to control the wheelchair’s joystick, and no apparent movement in the other hand. His head sat to one side, as if he didn’t have the strength to hold it up. I went through the outer door and held it open for him. He slurred “thank you” to me twice, and slowly cruised into the foyer. A young lady eating in the restaurant had noticed the action, and she was already at the inner door, holding it open for him. He slurred more thank you’s, and made his way into the restaurant.

The problem at this point was that this restaurant has a very narrow row, like a cattle stall which turns back on itself, leading up to the single cash register. (Trust me, the food is really good.) There was no way this fellow was going to get his wheelchair to that register. He didn’t even try; instead he slowly positioned himself in front of a small side table. A moment later, one of the employees emerged from the kitchen and came over to him.

“Here comes trouble,” the employee said to him, amiably. The fellow in the wheelchair grunted happily in reply. They spent the next couple of minutes , which was a difficult affair, about what he wanted. Finally the employee went back to the kitchen, and emerged a couple of minutes later with the man’s order on a tray. He placed it on the table in front of the man, and told him the price. The man handed over a little change purse, and the employee counted out four ones and some change (this is Kansas), and then placed the purse back in the man’s shirt pocket.

“Thank you, Paul,” he said, patted the man on the back, and went back to work. The man in the wheelchair proceeded to eat his lunch — slowly, precariously, happily.

This is the kind of place a trial attorney well-versed in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would love to get his claws into. It appears to be highly profitable, and almost always full. Everyone in town who isn’t a food snob (mercifully few of these in Kansas) knows about it and loves it, which means the attorney would have the added pleasure of sticking it to someplace newsworthy.

This is precisely why I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant. While enlightened “progressives” view this vignette as an example of why we need the ADA, I see a much better alternative — people in the community helping out, albeit in just a small way, their neighbor. To be sure, if this man had no access to care facilities or transportation, one might convincingly argue that such things are worthwhile public expenditures. The ADA, of course, frequently mandates that private businesses and homeowners take on such expenses — all the better to conceal from citizens the true cost of such a law — and ignores the existence of private aid.

The ADA, like many attempts to legislate hardship out of existence, extends itself deep into our private lives, and pretends that people are neither interested in nor capable of caring for one another. Perhaps, if Al Gore’s embarrassingly low charitable giving is any indication, this is an accurate reflection of the left-wing worldview; leftists view society as filled with selfish narcissists because they themselves are selfish narcissists. (Many conservatives and many more libertarians are just as selfish and narcissistic, of course, they just don’t feel guilty about it.)

The ADA, or welfare, or public housing, or government-funded abortion, all serve therefore as cheap penance, enabling us to pursue our self-satisfaction while pretending that we are helping the less fortunate without going about the dirty, frustrating work of actually helping them.

And what a paltry alternative such laws are. Rather than bring hurting souls into contact with caring humans, they deliberately remove them: instead of receiving a smile from the stranger who opens the door, the man in a wheelchair pushes a button and goes in alone; instead of receiving counsel and a home-cooked meal from a neighbor, the single mother drags her child from her dangerous, segregated public housing to a local store and buys a can of soup. If she lives in the right state and can take a hint, she helps herself to a Medicaid-funded abortion and relieves the rest of us from the burden altogether. The authors of these laws think themselves humanitarians, but in reality they are authors of dehumanization. They are busy about the work of destroying the foundations of civil society by removing the need for neighbors to take care of one another.

As a result, most of us don’t know how to care for a neighbor in need. Opening a door is simple enough, but I’m talking about personal involvement — providing food, counsel, spiritual support, or just attention. I know I’m not very good at this, and I suspect most of you aren’t either. A few of us are fortunate enough to find ourselves in a good church or civic organization where we can learn these skills, but most of us never do. We pay our taxes, give to the United Way, and pat ourselves on the back for helping our fellow man.

But at least in this small thing, on this day, in this restaurant, a few people proved that they don’t need a faceless federal bureaucrat to tell them what simple human decency requires. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could learn how to do this again, so that politicians proclaiming the need for some new government benefit are met with laughter from the intended beneficiaries themselves? Keep your program, G-Man. My neighbors take care of me just fine.

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