A Modest Proposal

With deference to Jonathan Swift for borrowing his book title, I have long thought about this proposal for every politician in America. The proposal would not go to the house or senate for a vote; it would go to our citizens and, if passed, would become a permanent law of the land, until or unless the people wanted a re-vote.

Like the title, my proposal is not new. It’s actually a spin-off concept, simply a very good idea, from a non-profit organization in rural upstate New York’s Delaware County where I worked for thirteen years. The agency was deeply dedicated to excellence in an area of human services—serving the mentally delayed and mentally ill—that often lacks quality. Here’s what we did:

When a new employee was hired, regardless of job title, he or she spent the first day of employment in a role play as a client receiving our organization’s services. Each was given a disability (eg., confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed on one side of the body, blindness, inability to speak) and several other daily living goals to promote identified growth areas: eating skills, verbal skills, gross and fine motor skills, social skills, and often goals to improve maladaptive behaviors. The employee role-play goal: to increase empathy in a highly positive environment for those we served.

You may now sense where I’m heading: I submit that anyone who wishes to serve the people in our country be required to enter a minimum week-long, 24 hour-day role-play, stepping into the shoes of a huge segment of our population, those who live within or close to poverty guidelines.

This candidate would become a single parent of three children, 13, 9, and 6, employed as a stock/check-out person at a big box store, earn $18,700 per year gross income (40 hour week x 52 weeks x $9.00 per hour), have chronic asthma, requiring an inhaler that cost $100.00 per month, and have no medical benefits. Home would have two bedrooms, noisy neighbors, and be located in a moderately high crime rate area. The car would be ten years old, have worn tires, brakes, and an overdue inspection.

During the role-play week, the following would occur:

• The youngest child wakes up sick and must stay home. Parent choices: (1) call into work, say she/he is staying home with the child. With no personal time, the day is unpaid, or (2) have the oldest child stay home from school to care for the sick child. Child Protective Services has already investigated several of these “illegal” absences. Paying a babysitter is not possible.
• Driving to work, the parent is stopped for the expired inspection sticker. The parent gets a temporary inspection during lunch hour using food money to pay the fee; the tires and brakes must be fixed in a week for a fee of $174.00.
• In mid-week, the parent’s breathing inhaler empties; the parent must choose: buy another inhaler or tonight’s food from the dwindling food dollars.
• At home, a final disconnect letter waits from the electric company for $129.00. The parent puts this on a credit card which she/he pays $20.00 per month.

These problems are but sample barriers that our fellow low-income, uninsured citizens encounter daily, yet are problems so far from our politicians’ lifestyles.

I cannot stop imagining our country as one where everyone could earn a living wage….


About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me to a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I found so many opportunities to grow: 10 year facilitator for an online writing circle of women writers across the country; thirteen year editor of the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal; a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site; program chair for two Stories from the Heart national conferences in Austin, T. Presently I'm teaching Women's Life-Writing and Older Women's Legacy workshops in my part of the world in Central Virginia and facilitating the ongoing Circle of Memories Writing Circle (formerly an OWL workshop that continued on) at the Crozet Public Library. I am blessed with three wonderful children, a son and two daughters; a small, huge-hearted family; dear friends; my beagle Addie and cat Button. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. All these years later, I'm scheduled to publish my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life, in 2018.
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6 Responses to A Modest Proposal

  1. Mary Jo, It is so good to read your views. I really liked the Modest Proposal, and believe much the same. I felt very strongly last year when Congress walked out, yet a Congressman told a non-working park employee she should have been ashamed of herself. I wanted to ask him to take over her job, and other problems his constituents had, especially those with problems in just living a decent and comfortable life with all the benefits the people in Congress enjoyed.

    Also, I have to mention to you, Mary Jo, that things in the writing department are desperate for me, not a word comes to me at the moment, and I am getting quite upset about it. Please just ray for me that I’ll get my writing going again. I do so love words, and that love makes writing a delight. Life is going on day by day, and we enjoy the moment as much as we can. My arthritis stops me from going on the walks I used to have, and I do miss that. I do a lot of reading and am wallowing in Medieval mysteries, which delight me. I love history; my dad used to read a lot of history and his encouraged my participation. Also, I read a book called SILENCE which was a German mystery written by M. Boormann. It was so beautifully written (translated) that I want to tell everyone I know. I couldn’t put it down when I was reading it, and then, when I finished, I was sorry I didn’t have more chapters to read. I do miss your input on Story Circle.



    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      Sooo nice to hear from you and catch up a bit. I wonder if you write a daily journal, which might be a help to starting your words flowing again. On the other hand, you’ve had such difficult changes during the year and that takes its own toll, though I hope it will pass. I’m happy to hear about the activities that give you much pleasure. I’ve been a life-long mystery lover and so I’ve written down Silence on my list. Thank you!
      Please know I think of you often and fondly. We won’t lose each other if we can meet here. Please take care, my friend. So nice to talk. Sending a hug to you. Shalom.


  2. cynthiabooks says:

    This is very thought provoking. I think many times in life we forget what it was like before we “made it”. This was a reality check for me. I saw your link on Betty”s wall. I would love to share it. I will be reading more on your blog. Loved it


    • Mary Jo Doig says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read the piece, Cynthia. Do feel free to share it wherever you feel it would give this perspective to others. Thanks for visiting and following!

      Liked by 1 person

      • cynthiabooks says:

        I would love for you to follow me at my block it’s call Wright For The Kill it is a Blog about short flash fiction of characters that I’ve met in my Boutique or that I’ve created in my head and whether or not they are right for the kill it’s mystery and suspense you made like it


      • Mary Jo Doig says:

        I love mystery and I’m working on learning flash fiction. I have some stories I want to write in the genre. I’m following! Thanks for the invitation.

        Liked by 1 person

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