Fostering Each Other

In my government class, I start the semester off with an introduction to the social contract. Long story short, I ask, “Do we need government?” I have the students watch this video, and then we discuss and find consensus.

The Social Contract in a nutsell

The consensus is “yes”.

Government is needed because otherwise we’d have complete anarchy, and humans can’t live like that. Therefore, we agree to an abstract contract whereby we surrender unlimited liberty for protection of essential rights. This is called the social contract, and it is the foundation of American society, and all free societies worldwide.

I emphasized the word “agree” up above because none of us really sign a contract or do anything of the sort. Yet, here we are: not invading each other’s fundamental rights (most of us, at least). And to ensure these rights remain unharmed, we set up institutions of different degrees, i.e. government.

Social contract theorists would argue that this ability to (sort of) intuitively protect our rights is what separates us from say, dogs. Obviously, dogs don’t have their own institutions, and they rely on us to be their shepherds. This month, Andrea and I decided to shepherd, or as they call it in the industry, foster a puppy. We named him Kylo.

Kylo Hen… but no dark side here.

Kylo came from Alabama, and that’s pretty much all we knew. We guessed he was close to 3 months old. Maybe some sort of German Shepherd mix? I don’t know. Definitely a male though. He was sweet and fit right in to the family. We knew he wouldn’t be with us long, but that was OK. Our purpose, was to establish, in a way, a social contract for him. We were going to protect his right to be a living dog and eventually usher him into wonderful forever home. With full support of the Second City Canine Rescue, we gave Kylo a chance at life, and now he’s living with a wonderful family who will care for him for a great many years. I miss him already, but I feel so touched by what we did.

If we hadn’t stepped up for Kylo, lord knows what would have happened to him. Actually, there’s a decent chance he’d be put down. That’s an easy fix, and that’s what we do for dogs that can’t be cared for and for dogs that are too much trouble. Dogs don’t have an implied social contract; humans do. Yet while we foster dogs without a blink of an eye, why don’t we foster humans with the same passion? Maybe it’s becausewe believe that all humans are in control.

I had been planning to write on this topic ever since we got involved in the foster game—before the White House released any sort of budget goals. But this week budget bullet points came trickling out of Washington, and now it appears that a debate about entitlement programs will be back in the forefront. I hate that phrase—entitlement programs—so I’m going to flip the script. I’m calling it foster programs.

We have these foster programs because like Kylo, there are a lot of humans who have a questionable past with an uncertain present and future. Humans of all colors, faiths, genders and ages who could use a break, a prop up and safety net. For some, it may be as simple as a quick shot in the arm. For others, it may be a long-term intervention. Either way, America is a better place if we foster these people. So why is it that there are forces in our government that want to do away with fostering?

Maybe it’s because…

  • they believe some will abuse the system;
  • some people may require fostering for most of their life;
  • they don’t think this is the government’s role.

My response…

  • Some will.
  • Some will.
  • It has to be.

Fostering is the government’s role because we agreed to this social contract. You can’t opt out. We forgo boundless liberty in order to protect those rights outlined in our founding documents. We trade in complete individualism because someday we may wish for fostering.

I know my family did, when my father died of cancer. We were fostered through the Social Security Survivor Benefit program. I was fostered by that system until I was 18, and without it I guarantee my life would be very different, not for the better. Today, I’m proud to contribute my share to our social contract in order to guarantee that some other kid is fostered in the future.

I hate that phrase — entitlement programs — so I’m going to flip the script. I’m calling it foster programs.

Again, some may still say that this is not the government’s role. They may say that this is the role of non-profits, of charities, and I agree, this is their role. They foster in their own unique way, but they are limited. They are not bound to the social contract like our government is. They can be selective; they have to be. On the other hand, our government must be a universal foster. Can we blend uniqueness of the choice institutions with the universality of the contract? I believe so, and I have ideas on how to do that. For instance, what if we formulate a plan that lets people dedicate a portion of their taxes to a project/cause of their choice? I know in a perfect world everyone would be altruistic — and we would not have to force — but that’s not realistic. Still, at the end of the day, all-inclusive fostering must be preserved.

Andrea and I extended Kylo the staples of life: food, shelter, health and love. Now, with his new family, he’ll provide them with life in the form of companionship and unconditional love. He’ll do his little part in our society. If we extend those same staples to all Americans, more people can do their part.

Even more, I don’t want a boy who could cure cancer or take us to Mars not have his potential realized because he was born poor. I don’t want an adult woman who’s struggled in the job market and caught some bad breaks to feel like there’s no one there to give her a chance. I don’t want a single dad to have to make a choice between food on the table and medical care. These situations are why we have a social contract. We yield our own infinite liberty for the protection of the whole.

Andrea and I fostered Kylo. We must foster each other.