Jun 30, 2024

When Your Karma Runs Over Your Dogma

un_owen | Flickr
un_owen | Flickr

By Anonymous in California

“Don’t let your karma run over your dogma.” I heard this cheeky saying on the radio when I was in high school, and immediately laughed then tucked it away in the back of my mind to pull out at an opportune moment. Of course, back then I thought I’d be using it on someone else, not myself.

Let’s start with my dogma, at least my political dogma. I’m a classical libertarian, often (but not always) voting for the Libertarian Party candidate (if there is one). I believe in a government of limited scope with strictly defined powers, and I view almost every government program with skepticism if not outright antipathy, from the federal government all the way down. Even when government programs start with good intentions, I tend to see them as simply crowding out more effective charities, commercial groups, or other private actions. And that’s not even getting into my concerns about regulatory capture, bureaucratic overreach, etc. Whenever I hear someone looking to the government for help, my instinctive question is “What else have you tried first?” Suffice it to say that I don’t have a very favorable view of government programs and those who try to make them bigger.

So that’s my dogma; what about the karma? When my son was only a few months old, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. One half of his body, including his left arm and leg, was hardly moving. He couldn’t reach out to play with toys, even though we could see how desperately he wanted to. We didn’t know if he’d ever be able to crawl, let alone walk. I’ve never been big into sports, but now I achingly wanted to be able to play baseball, soccer, and everything else with him. At the very least I wanted him to have the chance to decide on his terms, not because his body wouldn’t let him. The next year-plus was a blur of doctor’s visits, therapy, and relentless drives back and forth to appointments all over Los Angeles (which is not known for good traffic). 

Not what you fantasize about when you’re becoming a parent. 

Luckily, we caught it early (credit where credit is due, my wife caught it early) and, through the miracle of neuroplasticity and a lot of hard work, our son was able to “rewire” his brain and gain full function on both sides of his body. These days, you’d probably never notice that anything was ever wrong if you didn’t know to look. We may never know what caused his cerebral palsy; neither of us smokes, neither of us drank for months before we started trying to get pregnant, my wife ate everything right, she took all the recommended supplements, and we did everything else to give our son the best shot at a fully healthy infancy. And still something happened in utero or during birth. But believe me, we are grateful for his recovery every day, especially considering there are many, many families not so fortunate as us.

That’s all well and good, you ask — but how did the karma run over the dogma? The last piece of the puzzle is California’s system of Regional Centers, non-profits primarily contracting with the State Department of Developmental Services. The Regional Centers work with families like mine, with children who have lifelong disabilities or behavioral challenges including cerebral palsy, autism, and many others. So there I was, a proud libertarian suddenly in need of government support, like Ron Swanson cutting his checks from the Department of Parks and Recreation. Yes, we had insurance and our own money to cover some of the costs, but the Regional Center provided access to resources we didn’t even know we needed. They continue to help us coordinate with medical providers, therapists and schools, plus they reimbursed us for some of our costs. 

So what do you do when your child needs help, but that offer of help conflicts with your closely held beliefs? You take the money. You receive the help. You say thank you, and you don’t ask yourself too many questions. What parent would do any different?

What have I learned from my experience? Have I had an Ebenezer Scrooge-like complete change of heart? Am I now a fan of Big Government? Sorry to disappoint, but beliefs are stubborn things: I’m still skeptical of most government programs, I still wish there were more limits on government power, and I still grumble about how high taxes are (even though I got some of my money back, so to speak). But I have become a little wiser and more compassionate, especially toward those who find themselves genuinely dependent on the help — or at least beneficiaries of help that probably wouldn’t come from any other program. My son is doing ok, but I’ve met far too many children who never will walk, who never will be able to feed themselves, and with parents who will struggle all their lives just to form the barest human connection with their child that we all take for granted. 

Now I understand that when you’re hit with a difficult situation, you may not have the time or mental capacity to go looking for other avenues of help when you already know a government program exists to do just that. And I’ve met too many genuinely caring therapists and other wonderful staff to simply dismiss the whole lot as soulless bureaucrats; you have to take them as they are, individuals just like everyone else. I may still intellectually believe that private insurance and charity would be better without government programs crowding them out, but I fully understand why someone would take the help from the government and not ask too many questions. After all, karma is a funny thing, and even if you’re as careful as careful can be, it might just run over your dogma.

The author has chosen to remain anonymous out of concern for his son’s medical privacy. He and his family live in Los Angeles, CA.

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