I just received one of those emails. You know the ones that are copied and resent countless times with a “must read” subject line only to repeat the same old tired rhetoric. This one was supposedly written by a famous comic. I doubted its authenticity because it wasn’t the least bit funny…well, not to me. It drummed along to the beat of “I’m tired.” I’m tired this, I’m tired that, I’m old and tired, oh so very tired. Join in the chorus; I’m sure you know the words.
Over the last few months, our country, my province, and even my city, Toronto, have listened to the deafening and tireless thumping beat of the “stop the gravy train” taxpayer’s revolt accompanied by a quiet yet not-so-subtle backbeat of “blame the foreigners.” And frankly, I’m tired too. I’m tired of the selfish, short-sighted ingratitude that has people mindlessly tapping their toe to this beat.
In ancient teachings, ingratitude is considered a form of cruelty. In King Lear, Shakespeare refers to ingratitude as a “marble-hearted fiend.” When I read the “I’ve got mine; screw you” taxpayer mantra of our North American society, it chills my heart.
In a recent newspaper article titled “Taxpayers vs Citizens,” Edmund Pries from the Department of Global Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University examines the difference between taxpayers (one word) and citizens. Citizens “see taxes as a positive contribution to broader society.” Taxpayers, on the other hand, see “taxes as a transaction in which a levy or a tariff is borne and paid by an individual in exchange for specific personally-realized services.” In this light, taxpayers do not see value in money spent on anything that does not benefit them directly and at a value equal to their payment. But to view it through this narrow lens is to ignore all the benefits received from the accumulated contributions of those citizens who paid taxes paid before. And to let what these contributions built degrade over time through self-serving neglect is to be an ungrateful, marble-hearted fiend. Which brings me back to the “I’m tired” mantra of the email I received; I’m not tired, I’m grateful.
I’m grateful to the tax-funded, not government-run, Canadian healthcare system that has allowed my family and friends to remain healthy without going broke. I’m especially grateful for the doctors and nurses currently caring for our 93-year-old uncle who pays very little in taxes these days.
I’m grateful to a country that provided safe haven to my immigrant grandfather, rescuing him from a life of poverty and persecution. At that time, our country didn’t provide education and health care for all, but still, through taxes, my grandfather contributed to building a country where his future generations would have the benefit of both.
I’m grateful to unions for improving the work environment for those of us who never had to pay a single union due. Without their hard-won battles, I sincerely doubt the rest of us would be working reasonable hours for a decent wage and receiving equitable benefits.
I’m grateful to have clean water at the turn of turn of a tap, reliable electric power, and 911 emergency services that thankfully my family has rarely had reason to call.
I’m grateful that I live in a country that endeavours to support the weakest in our society because I can’t for the life of me imagine how to do that alone.
I’m grateful for tax-funded safety boards that promote vehicle and road standards that make it possible for me and my fellow citizens to get where we need to go safely.
I’m grateful, most mornings, for the public subway system that whisks me from one part of the city to the other for the measly price of $5 return fare when parking at a privately owned lot costs $25/day.
I’m grateful that when I venture onto a bridge or walk next to a building I do not have to wonder if the engineers or building crews were bribed to cut corners.
I’m particularly grateful for garbage removal in summer and snow removal in winter because I can’t imagine city life without these timely services.
And I’m grateful for the tax-funded public schools and the tax-subsidized university I attended that allow me to support myself and contribute to my community.
I’m grateful for swimming lessons, summer camps, and Little League baseball.
I’m also grateful my country felt it important to legislate rights and equalities ahead of what society was ready to accept. And I’m grateful my fellow citizens grew to accept these changes.
I’m grateful that I can vote as I please without intimidation.
I’m grateful to all the citizens who helped create the bounty of freedom, rights, and services that I enjoy.
And to show my gratitude, I will continue to support the investment of those who went before me. I will not allow short-sighted selfishness to destroy by a thousand cuts what others have sacrificed so much to build. I will not allow the looming drumbeat of ingratitude to turn me into a marble-hearted fiend.
Photo of King Lear in the Storm by Benjamin West [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.