Grassroots Commentary

Yes We Can

George Rogers Clark · Dec. 6, 2012

Recently, the subjects of one of my essays were welfare and race. These are two things I cannot be categorical about. The attempted message was that I thought too many conservatives, and I am one, had been focusing too much on welfare as a reason for the nation’s deficits and debt. Additionally, I tried to show that we too often focused on race as a primary factor of welfare, whereas it was more appropriate to focus on poverty as the welfare driver, regardless of race.

Then I expressed what nobody wants to hear: that a federal spending cut of measurable impact would probably not occur, but if it did, they would go after the much larger budget items: Social Security and Medicare. I still do not believe the politicians have the stomach to cut the size of the federal bureaucracy or the welfare payouts. The mostly polite disagreement that resulted from that essay should have been expected.

Perhaps I can peer through the other end of my perception filter and make amends.

Frequently, as I drive along a road near my home, I see a young man walking. He lives within a block of me. We have never met, but I have discerned a few things about him by observation. Let us give him a nickname, “Sparky”.

Sparky is about twenty years old, give or take. He works at a truck stop located about two miles from his residence. I know this because I see him come and go. Sparky walks that road, to and from work, four miles in all. I have seen him walking in rain, snow, and 95 degree heat and humidity. He does not put out his thumb to try to hitch a ride. He walks a determined gait, head high, unless it is raining. On those occasions he pulls his ball cap down over his eyes a little and lowers his chin a bit.

Without more personal knowledge, I cannot be certain about Sparky’s job skills. I cannot know if he lives with parents, or perhaps a sibling, or alone. Perhaps he is a young-married (very young). The truck stop may be his only job, or it may be one of two. I really cannot say. It seems Sparky does not own or borrow a car. He walks. The truck stop is probably the only job. I have no idea what Sparky’s duties are and could not venture a guess about his wages. However, I think we can safely assume he is not building a hot investment portfolio on the side.

By observation I have extrapolated some conclusions about Sparky that make me proud to almost know him: Sparky has a positive demeanor. Positive people usually get positive results. Sparky is not afraid to work, is happy to have work, and is willing and determined in his work, and probably his life. Sparky would probably like to make a better wage. He almost certainly keeps his ear to the ground for other opportunities. But he is respectful of the job he has, and careful not to place it at risk. Sparky believes in “a bird in hand.”

Sparky looks like a young man who is busy pulling himself up by his bootstraps. You may suspect Sparky walks because he got busted for DUI (or whatever they call it these days). That certainly is possible, but I do not know about that. All I know for sure is the guy has been walking that road to and from work for at least two years that I have observed.

I know this: Sparky works harder to get to work than most people work when they are on the job.

Tom is another example of old-fashioned grit. In this case, “Tom” is his actual name. Tom is handicapped. I am unaware of the history or exact nature of Tom’s handicaps. He does not seem to be cognitively impaired. And he has pretty good motor skills. But there is a pretty severe palsy, a speech impediment, and one leg seems deformed or damaged. It cannot be straightened and causes a severe limp. But Tom is a beautiful man.

Everyone that knows anything about Tom knows of his victory over his handicaps and his victory in life. They are the result of a positive attitude and unflinching, unwavering determination. Tom works three different jobs: a grocery, a fast food restaurant and a family restaurant.

I see Tom at least twice per month, usually at the family restaurant or the grocery. I seldom stop and chat, Tom is not a chatty person, though he is always quite pleasant. In passing, I usually just say, “hey, Tom.” He always replies, “Hello there”, in his halting way of speaking. But then he puts his head down and really focuses on his work. He has to do that, because of his handicaps, but also because of his determination.

Tom, like Sparky, walks to work. His home is only a few blocks from the grocery. However, the two restaurants are closer to a mile distant. Happily, they are very near each other. But still, with a bum leg, the walk must be difficult. Tom does not hitch rides.

Tom’s duties are what you might expect: cleaning, busing tables, emptying trash cans, and in the case of the grocery, gathering the grocery carts, of course. He seems to be well liked by coworkers. His attitude seems to inspire all who know or observe him. Again, it is always, “hello”, “thank you”, “I will get that”, always something appropriate and pleasant to say. And then, he goes head down, eyes on his task, and right back to work.

Tom is another example of the kinds of grit and positive attitude that employers like to hire, even if the applicant is handicapped. Tom is not afraid to work, is happy to have work, and is willing and determined in his work, and probably his life.

What is it about Sparky and Tom and their love of work that causes me to single them out as examples? Exactly that: their love of work sets an example. People who have good attitudes love to work. People who love to work have good attitudes.

For most, work is a needed paycheck. For those who love to work, work does something more: Work helps the meek to socialize. Work gives confidence and a sense of pride to those who appreciate opportunity and accomplishment. Work seems to build new energy and purposeful attitude in the worker. Through work, many learn to respect others and be part of a team, an especially rewarding experience for the handicapped.

Bottom-line, I am not saying all welfare recipients are lazy, because it would not be true. I cannot be categorical about some things. From personal experience, I can say that I have been happy to help some welfare recipients, because some truly need it. But many folks on welfare appear more able-bodied than my friend, Tom, and most seem less determined than either Tom or Sparky. Perhaps those would be happier, like Tom and Sparky, if they would follow the example of those two admirable human beings.

George Rogers Clark blogs at

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