Peter & Helen Evans
February 8, 2004
What kids can learn from John Q
By Peter & Helen Evans

Last week our two nephews and niece, ages 8 to 12, ran up to us and showed us a video they just saw. While it's an older movie, they were just thrilled by John Q. They kept wondering aloud if we would like it. We borrowed it and this is our reply to them:

The Review of John Q

The redeeming moment of this movie was when the father decided he would give up his own life to give his heart to his son, Mike. He would make the ultimate sacrifice. It was remarkable because, up until this moment, John Q was asking everyone else to sacrifice their talent or money; his friends, his church community, his employer, social security, the doctor and the hospital administrator. It was also quite strange that, in his "last conversation" with his son, John Q was trying to pass along moral values that he himself had not followed until that moment.

So let's go back to the beginning. This is a truly sad story. A family struggling to get along, the breadwinner can't find a meaningful job, and they are barely making ends meet. Mike, who dreams of being a body-builder, collapses during an after-church softball game, and at the hospital, it is discovered he will die without a heart transplant. The sadder news is that the family's health insurance has been proportionally cut back because of the cut backs in the amount of time the father is now working. Now, the insurance will not cover the quarter-million-dollar cost of the heart transplant. In the meeting with the doctor and hospital administrator, John pleads for a 'favor' to save his son's life. When all this fails, John Q resorts to taking hostages in the hospital and demanding his son get a heart transplant or he'll start killing people.

So that's the basis for the story. It is indeed a sad story from many angles. Human beings suddenly find themselves in an overwhelming situation, facing the loss of a loved one and have to make life and death decisions. No sane human being wouldn't feel compassion for this family. Yet, we can view this situation in quite different ways from what are called Liberal or Conservative points of view.

Let's take some examples, or core issues, stressed in the movie:

John Q and his family are "poor." From the liberal point of view, this condition is the result of many causes, but none of those causes is the individuals themselves. The causes suggested are the selfish "rich," the bureaucratic government, or un-caring "big business;" the hospital that won't do the operation unless they get paid, and John Q's employer, a steel mill that is "sending our jobs overseas." From this point of view, John is being un-fairly denied his livelihood by forces outside himself and beyond his control. But, think about it. You have to go to school every day. You're encouraged to study and get good grades and even to attend college. Then, when you get out of college you'll be able to get a good job and support yourself AND be able to afford good health insurance. John Q didn't do this and, as a result, he has a job where he makes little money and is not skilled enough to be able to get a better job. Would you think it was fair for everyone in your class to be given good grades if they didn't all study for them and pass the exams? John Q didn't take the road to getting good grades and he's certainly got himself into a sad situation. But it isn't someone else's fault, although the movie-makers would like us to think that it is.

On the other hand, the conservative point of view thinks that John Q brought his condition upon himself. Of course, he didn't make his son's heart fail, but neither did he take advantage of opportunities to make himself better through study and gaining skills to find a good job to support his family better. Now, conservatives don't think this isn't sad. It is. However, conservatives think that we should encourage people to be responsible for themselves, rather than blame others.

John Q felt the "rich" hospital was making enough money from the people who could pay for surgery and therefore they should give his son a free heart transplant. The hospital administrator was portrayed as a mean and selfish woman.

Let us ask you, would you think it's OK to "take" a bike away from a friend who had 2 bikes and "give" it to another friend who didn't have one? Isn't that called stealing? You might try to convince yourself that it was OK because the one with 2 bikes didn't "really" need both of them.

From the liberal point of view it's OK to take something away from you to give to someone else. In other words, they use other people's money and resources (not their own) to give to a third party. From the liberal point of view, the administrator was mean and selfish because she didn't give away someone else's time and money. From the conservative point of view that would have been bad management and, actually theft, since she was giving away something she didn't own herself.

In the conservative point of view, we encourage giving, but you give of yourself. If you think someone should have a bike, give them your own or buy one for them, if you can afford it. That's all you have title or ownership of. You have no right to give other people's stuff away. But it's more than just stuff; it's the virtue of compassion that's learned and the goodness of giving that's enjoyed when you give to someone in need.

This is a good example of that idea from the book, Advice to a Young Conservative, we sent to you:

"... What distinguishes the government from the private sector is the power of coercion... This power of coercion, which is inherent in the nature of government, fundamentally undermines the liberal claim that the government is doing a moral thing by helping people. Let me show you why this is so. I am walking down the street, eating a sandwich, when I am approached by a hungry man. He wants to share my sandwich. Now, if I give him the sandwich, I have done a good deed, and I feel good about it. The hungry man is grateful, and even if he cannot repay me for my kindness, possibly he will try to help someone else when he has the chance. So this is a transaction that benefits the giver as well as the receiver. But see what happens when the government gets involved. The government takes my sandwich from me by force. Consequently, I am a reluctant giver. The government then bestows my sandwich upon the hungry man. Instead of showing me gratitude, however, the man feels entitled to this benefit. In other words, the involvement of the state has utterly stripped the transaction of its moral value, even though the result is exactly the same." Dinesh D'Souza

Remember the crowd outside the hospital as the hostage situation was happening? They were on John Q's side, but they wanted someone else to help him. Did you see one of them step forward to help with money or ideas or any help themselves? It's very easy to want to give away something that doesn't belong to you, but that's not compassion or help.

If someone doesn't have to earn their privileges in life for themselves, if they don't take responsibility for themselves, they will get into the lazy habit of expecting someone else to give it to them. That kind of situation leads to some very awful people deciding for you that you don't need very much. Remember those escaped Cubans we met last summer at the parade? When the power to "give" you the things you need in life has been handed over to others, they might just become mean and keep that power, AND those things, for themselves.

On the way out of the courtroom John Q was applauded as though he was some kind of Robin Hood hero, instead of for making the right choices in his life and providing for his son in the first place. Of course, it's all very well and just and right to give anything of your own for someone else, but that didn't seem to be what the movie was telling us.

So let's go back to Robin Hood. Remember him, stealing from the "rich" to give to the poor. That was in another period of human history when poor people, no matter what they did, could not own anything. They were "subjects" of the King and couldn't own a thing, not their farms, not even their own homes. They couldn't work for money and make themselves better, so Robin Hood was a real hero back then. But we live in a very different world now and people can take advantage of the freedom and all the opportunities that this great country has to offer them and they can get good jobs and, with their wealth, they can even help out in parts of the world where things are still bad. Look at Secretary of State Colin Powell. His parents came here from a Caribbean Island as poor people and he himself was poor until he joined the army and began to feel he should take control of his life. There's Thomas Sowell, Arnold Schwartznegger and many great people who have come up from the depths of poverty to gain a stable, secure place in the world where they don't have to worry about lack of things.

So what did we think about the movie? It was slanted and biased toward an attitude that people shouldn't feel responsible for their own problems. Now it's not that black and white in life. Things happen that we don't have control over and just about every single one of us has made some very bad decisions. Just think of the opening scenes of the movie. There was a woman driving carelessly. She must have been one of those "rich" people because she was well-dressed, driving an expensive car and listening to classical music. But she made some bad decisions on the last day of her life. She decided to pass a big truck even though she couldn't see the road ahead. That was a really bad mistake and she was killed because of what she did. That's how the real world is... we have to accept the consequences of our actions. However, a good thing came out of it, the dead woman's heart was available to replace little Mike's bad one. That, too, is how the real world is. And that's a good thing.

Again, the liberal attitude suggests we should always think our problems are someone else's fault, and other people who don't even know us or care about us should feel sorry for us and make things all right for us. The conservative attitude says everyone should accept responsibility for their own lives, figure out where they went wrong, try to correct their mistakes and go on with their life. It sure doesn't mean that you shouldn't help someone in trouble, but that person should realize that you are a good, compassionate person and that your helping is a gift, not something that's "owed" to them. When they do, they will try to be more self-sufficient themselves and maybe take care of someone else when they can help. In other words, the conservatives believe it's just great to give from yourself to another, in fact, it's an honor; but to take from a third party to give to another is just stealing. It would be a better world for all of us if we didn't "steal" from others and pretend that we're being good.


Aunt Helen and Uncle Peter

© Peter & Helen Evans


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)