“If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?” My mom stopped kneading the buttermilk biscuit dough only for a moment to look through her thick glasses and stare me down.
Exasperated, I put my hands on my hips and tried not to be the first to blink. But as a teenager hearing that answer from my mother, I knew the conversation was over. Though she could sometimes be badgered into giving in, she had the force of my father’s sternness hovering in the air even when he wasn’t present. And the one point of argument that never once worked for me was that my friends were all allowed to [fill in the blank here].
Now that my mother is in a nursing home, largely silenced by a debilitating stroke, I’ve replayed this scene in my mind often. All my adult life, when I’ve been tempted to do something because everyone else is doing it, I hear her voice in my mind and know that I should have a better reason for the choices I make and the causes I champion than that everyone is doing it—that it seems to be in vogue.
My mom quit school in ninth grade to care for her ailing mother, though she did earn her GED when she was 52—after all her five children had graduated from high school. She readily admitted that there was a lot she didn’t know about English and math, science and social studies, but she wanted all of us to go to college. And she knew absolutely nothing about the college application process. She entrusted that guidance to our teachers and supported them in pushing us to make good educational choices.
So when I hear the term “fiscal cliff,” I can’t help thinking of my mother and wishing that our leaders had someone to ask them to have better reasons for their choices than that everyone else in their party is heading over the cliff—or at least playing a game of chicken that sends them so close to the edge of the precipice that the force of momentum may make it impossible to stop their forward progress, sending them over the cliff in spite of their certainty that they can stop just short of recklessness.
Like my mother, I’ll admit that there are some things I don’t know. I don’t fully understand economics or finance. But I do know that we cannot continue to pile up a steep mountain of debt and leave our children to look over the cliff into the abyss below. Nor can we continue to leave the least among us tottering over the precipice with no one to pull them back to safety.
So like my mother, I want to be able to entrust decisions about our budget to those who committed themselves to finding the best solutions when they asked for our votes. As my mom trusted my teachers, I want to be able to trust our leaders—all of them, not just those in my party—to find objective experts who can help them make solid decisions. I know that few of the people we elect are economists. But they do have the resources to engage experts who can help them move in a positive direction instead of just telling them what they want to hear.
But for that to happen, our politicians need to listen more to people like my mother.