There was a man who cared: he cared about God; he cared about his family; he cared about his friends. He gave to the food bank, he donated to charities, he served on his church board, and he volunteered at a downtown soup kitchen. Sometimes he even cut his elderly neighbor’s grass.
Eventually the Man Who Cared was convinced to campaign with his favorite political party and even had the good fortune to be elected as a member of parliament. Because his father had been a farmer, the Man Who Cared was appointed as the Minister of Agriculture in their newly formed government.
One day a staff member entered his office and informed him that there was a large protest gathered on the front lawn of the government buildings. When he went outside to meet the protesters he was met by an army of trucks, tractors, hay wagons and a large, friendly group of placard-carrying farmers.
In the ensuing meeting, the Man Who Cared learned that these were wheat and pig farmers who had found themselves in dire economic circumstances. In recent years ideal growing conditions had resulted in an abundance of wheat and an increasing demand for pork had brought more and more competition. The unfortunate result was that prices had dropped dramatically and traditional wheat and pork farmers were now operating with little or no profit, draining their savings just to survive from one year to the next.
After meeting with caucus it was decided that the government would provide subsidies during the next year with the provision the farmers must severely reduce their production. The hope was that, by reducing availability of the products, the prices would climb back to a profitable level. Wheat reserves were to be destroyed and crops reduced by 50%. In the same way, present pig herds were to be culled by half.
While sitting at the dinner table one evening, the Man Who Cared asked his teenage daughter why she was so quiet.
She looked squarely into his eyes, unable to hide her anger. “Is it true that you’re paying farmers to destroy their crops?”
The Man Who Cared swallowed and took a sip of water. “It’s not me that’s doing it, but yes, that is the government’s policy for helping our farmers. Why?”
“Doesn’t it bother you that you are throwing away food while people around the world are starving to death?” She had put down her fork now, totally engaged in this all-important subject.
The Man Who Cared was impatient. She was too young and idealistic to understand the complexities of this problem or the good that he was doing. “Don’t forget that we send millions of dollars overseas and support numerous humanitarian programs. You’re making us out as heartless and that isn’t fair. And anyway, if we don’t help our own farmers we eventually won’t have them any more, and then where will anybody’s food come from?”
His daughter’s eyes dropped. “I don”t know. All I know is that it’s immoral to throw away food, or even the potential to grow food, as long as there are hungry people anywhere.”
“I understand,” said the Man Who Cared, “but it’s my job to care for the people here in our own country. It’s why I was elected to this position and it’s why they pay me. I’m doing the best I can, that’s all. I can’t feed everyone in the world and I shouldn’t have to feel guilty about it. ”
Good answer, he thought. I made her think. I want to feed the world too, but this is all I have to work with.
His daughter just shook her head and mumbled,”I don’t know, it’s so confusing.”
The family ate a few more bites but they had all lost their appetites.
During the next months there was a moderate but insufficient price increase in wheat and pork and so agreement was reached to subsidize and reduce food production for another year.
The Man Who Cared arranged a fact-finding tour of one of the farms and he was amazed at how large and complex the farm was. But he had concerns too.
“I see you have a new truck” he said, hoping they could explain.
The answer was quick and honest. “We need four-wheel-drive to get around the farm. We bought it in the spring when our old truck finally died. It was coming off a lease.”
“That makes sense,” said the Man Who Cared “but I noticed you also have a new combine and all your tractors have radios and air conditioning and orthopedic seats. How do I explain those extra comforts to the tax-payers?”
The farmer looked at him blankly. “Frankly, that’s the cost of doing business.” He waved his hand across the flat fields spreading against the horizon. “We absolutely need this equipment to make those acres productive. We bought the combine two years ago because we needed it – without it we can’t make food or money. If we don’t make food or money the bank will repossess the combine and our farm will have no future at all. There are times when we spend 18-20 hours a day in the fields and I don’t think that having a couple of small luxuries is inappropriate. Besides, its all standard equipment.” The farmer smiled a thin smile.
The Man Who Cared relaxed and smiled back. “I understand,” he said “I’m just asking. I have a job to do too, you know.”The farmer had made good sense, and it was obviously a difficult situation they had found themselves in.”You know, I have to answer to my boss’ he added lightly.
“Yes, but who is your boss?” the farmer laughed. “Is it God, the Prime Minister or your wife?”
The Man Who Cared laughed along with him and was a bit surprised to hear himself say, “No, my daughter.”
The following week the Man’s daughter initiated the familiar discussion around the dinner table, only this time her younger brother joined in as well, with the Man’s wife moderating. And once again the Man Who Cared overwhelmed them with his common sense. The only difference was that, this time, her words stuck in his thoughts longer than he wanted them to. Still, doesn’t it bother you that you are throwing away food while people around the world are starving?
During the months that followed the Man Who Cared continued to do his job to the best of his ability, knowing he was doing what was right. But he couldn’t shake the question or his uneasiness with it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When the Man Who Cared eventually handed in his letter of resignation it shocked the Prime Minister who had no idea that it was coming. At first he refused to accept it, choosing instead to ask the Man Who Cared to lay it on the desk that sat between them.
“Why?” was his first question.
The Man Who Cared was prepared for only one question and this was it. “Well, the bottom line is we’re throwing food away while people in Africa are starving. It’s wrong. I’m sorry, but it’s wrong.” He knew it was short and inadequate, but he had determined that he couldn’t explain it adequately so he would speak his peace and accept the inevitable misunderstandings.
The Prime Minister responded predictably. “I’m not sure what is wrong with doing the best we can.” He peered across the desk. “As you know, we spend large amounts of money in foreign aid and we respond to each crisis wherever we can. We can”t accept responsibility for fixing all of the problems of the world, you know. I’m sorry it sounds harsh but…His voice trailed off knowingly.
“I know.” The Man Who Cared knew it better than most.
“Our job is to ensure the health and viability of our own farms. To be responsible to the people who elect us and pay our salaries. If we don’t protect our own farms none of us will be able to eat.”
The Man Who Cared nodded again, looking over the shoulder of the Prime Minister at the brightness of the sunshine outside the office window.
The Prime Minister continued. “Controlling agricultural production is the best way to feed the people who already depend on our farmers. There is no fault here. We’re simply doing the only thing we know to do.”
The Man Who Cared looked back at his colleague. The Prime Minister was correct.
” I’m not pointing any fingers of blame, sir.” The Man straightened himself in his chair and edged slightly forward. That’s the thing. There are no bad guys here. The farmers are doing what they think is right. You’re doing what you think is right. Nobody’s to blame, but people are still starving and we are still throwing food away. What we’re doing doesn’t seem wrong, but frankly I don’t think it’s right.”
The Prime Minister stared back at him, feeling the Man’s passion but unable to empathize. “Let me put it this way: do you have a better answer? Can you solve anything by leaving your job?”
The Man Who Cared shrugged and stood up and laid the letter of resignation on the desk that had now come to represent the philosophical distance that was emerging between them. He extended his hand across the desk and they should hands warmly.
As the Man approached the door he turned again to the Prime Minister. “Sir, you’re right. I can’t fix the world and I have no regrets or hard feelings toward anyone. But something’s broken and I have to listen to my heart and conscience.”
A quiet “What now?” drifted across the room from behind the desk.
“I just want to teach anyone who’ll listen how to simply grow their own food in their own back yards and in their own neighborhoods. And maybe they will teach others.” The answer sounded feeble even in his own ears, but the idea of healthy food on people’s tables without layers of dependence and cost was sounding more and more possible to him.
As the door closed the Prime Minister sat down and slit the envelope open. The letter was straightforward and simple.
It has been my honor to work with you on behalf of the good people of our nation and I have always served with great pride and to the best of my ability.
However, as we strive to reach similar goals, it has become evident to me that our paths are evolving in very different directions. I recognize that we are all doing the best we can, but wonder if perhaps we are doing so within a system that is inherently unsound. I now believe that even our best institutions can evolve to a place where they sincerely justify self preservation as a higher ideal than the simple task they were created for.
Without regret or malice I have come to a place where my conscience simply will not allow me to continue to act within the status quo.
Please accept this as my necessary resignation as a Minister.
I understand that some will not agree and that most will not understand this decision. I fully expect to be criticized and misinterpreted with a variety of partial truths.
However, I’ve come to believe that the expected thing to do isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. I must do the best thing.
Someone who cares
~ ~ ~
Amen – BB