Guest column

People are why politics matter

By Mike Leman
Posted 2/11/20

I’ve heard some folks say that our state hasn’t executed anyone since 1992, so it doesn’t make sense that the Diocese of Cheyenne should join other groups who are seeking to repeal …

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Guest column

People are why politics matter


I’ve heard some folks say that our state hasn’t executed anyone since 1992, so it doesn’t make sense that the Diocese of Cheyenne should join other groups who are seeking to repeal the death penalty. Similarly, I’ve heard others deny the importance of unborn protection bills because, they claim, there aren’t that many abortions happening in Wyoming.

If we are triaging by numbers, such arguments raise a valid point. After all, there are many other important issues whereby the marginalized are indirectly impacted (for better or worse) by our current laws. The argument could be made that the status of these laws have an effect on a greater number of people and, therefore, all attention should be focused on them. Moreover, legislative solutions are important to seek, but they are just one part of the picture. There are many other things that could be done that aren’t so controversial. Doesn’t it make sense to focus solely on those instead?

Such questions remind me of a story Catholic author Mathew Kelly tells in one of his books about a man who tries to prepare a presentation for work while at home watching his young son. He finds little games to distract his son so that he can focus on his work. At one point, he tears a picture of a map of the world out of a magazine, tears it into puzzle pieces and tells his son if he can put the map back together, he will earn $20.

The man returns to his project, assured he has bought himself 30 minutes of uninterrupted work. A few minutes later, his son returns with the puzzle completed. Amazed, he asks his son how he finished the puzzle so quickly. His son says, “I didn’t know what a map of the world looked like. But I noticed on the back of the pieces there was a picture of a person’s face. So I taped the face together, and turned it over.”

I like the story because it reminds us that people are why politics matter in the first place. The irony is that the man was focused on the “problem” of not being able to do his work. But, he was missing out on what was most important to him until his son reminded him. 

Today, we are faced with many challenges. Some of those are: seeing human dignity in the faces of the poor, the immigrant and the elderly; seeing our responsibility for our Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshoni brothers and sisters, many of whom live in abject poverty; seeing our responsibility for educating our children and keeping them safe; ensuring that the uninsured do not die from curable diseases simply because they cannot afford treatment; seeing the dignity of those who happen to disagree with us, yes, even politicians.

I’m not suggesting that if the death penalty were repealed and fetuses were given at least as much protection as an eagle’s eggs that suddenly all of our problems will go away. Politics will not take away the sins of the world. Political solutions are important as part of much broader solutions.

But for any solution to come — political and otherwise — we must recognize that some of our policies are blind to human dignity. Discovering necessary and effective changes is difficult work. It takes healthy and rigorous debate and even more listening. It will take a collective effort to raise up our responsibility for everyone.

However, if we hope to address the indirect impact of current laws that degrade human dignity, we cannot ignore laws that directly and intentionally attack human life. We cannot be silent when some of our neighbors dehumanize human fetuses from conception to birth in order to justify the “personal” policy of abortion-on-demand. We cannot be silent about the dehumanization of the elderly when some compare them to cats and dogs waiting to be euthanized. And we cannot sit in silence when some of our government leaders argue for a “right” to kill human prisoners, when doing so is no longer necessary to protect society.

Many will say, “This is a budget session! We don’t have time for ‘social’ issues.” But, how do we heighten our shared sense of responsibility for funding important programs that help the marginalized when our current laws enable us to get rid of people who some find undesirable or burdensome? People are why politics matter.

This year, Wyoming’s 65th Legislature will have opportunities to enshrine into our laws the notion that the value of each person cannot be set by those who happen to be more powerful.     

So long as one, marginalized human being is considered a “problem” to be solved, we will continue to experience division and an absence of peace. Not even our brightest minds know how to put the world back together again. But every single one of us knows what the face of the human person looks like. If we get that right, we stand a far better chance of getting other things right as well.    

(Mike Leman is the legislative liaison for the Diocese of Cheyenne, a part of the Catholic church. He is based in Cheyenne.)

Guest column