Joco Diversions

Are you ‘dependent?’ Ask yourself when things get rough

Medical care is essential.
Medical care is essential. File photo

Since when have we started using “dependent” as an insult? Who do people think they are, to claim independence, and point fingers at others?

In today’s political climate, some people are adamant about not helping people. Usually the help is to be withheld from a specific group of people — those with less than those with means. The usual argument? Helping people causes people to not help themselves.

What cruelty. We’re not talking about a teenager with no clean underwear who doesn’t know how to run the washing machine. We’re talking about people struggling to feed their families. People suffering from health problems. People who lose their transportation, then their jobs, then their homes.

I was recently involved in a discussion on the topic. The woman sounded educated and had an arsenal of comebacks. “If we expand welfare, we create more dependents and dilute the resources for those who truly need them.”

All nice talking points, I suppose, bouncing around in an echo-chamber that doesn’t happen to have any welfare recipients to offer a counterpoint. The word “dependent” oozes with snark in this context — a slur for someone who isn’t pulling their own weight.

But I ask you this: Are you dependent?

I sure am. The most precious aspects of my life are reliant a dependable government that provides (through my tax dollars) wonderful schools for my kids, a well-trained, adeptly run police department that keeps my neighborhood safe, safe roads to get me to and from, a Medicaid system that will care for my parents if their personal insurance runs out, a military to defend us, should we need to do so, and more.

I exhale a deep sigh of relief that I’m not even remotely responsible for a single one of those things. Nor does anyone wag their fingers at me for not pulling my weight at those things.

Other things I have depended on throughout my life have come to me partly through choices made by myself or my family, and partly by happenstance. I received a good education. I received a college education, credit: my parents and grandparents. I could go to the doctor and had food on the table growing up, credit: my dad’s employer.

It wasn’t until my daughter became quite ill that I fully understood my family’s fragility, and just how dependent we are. Without the safety nets we’ve managed to secure for ourselves, we would have been sunk. Bankrupt, jobless, and I hate to think of what might have happened to my daughter had we not been able to afford the medical care and therapies that allowed her to simply eat.

Health insurance paid the hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills and tens of thousands of dollars in medications, secondary insurance made our co-pays more manageable, my husband’s job could cover our family’s bills, and I depended on my flexible job that allowed me to spend days caring for her.

If any one of those safety nets had failed, the rest would have collapsed like dominoes.

We all need to take a step back, and take a hard look at our own support networks. Some of us will find layers of opportunity and support and safety nets. Others will find precarious holes and circumstances spinning out of control in a downward spiral.

Society should be dependable for all its members, not just those who hold positions of relative privilege — because after all, what is privilege, if not something those who have it can depend on?

Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park and can be reached at