Want to see what a strong civil society looks like in practice? Then you need to meet Austin Niehus. Austin was born with Goldenhar Syndrome. The National Craniofacial Association defines Goldenhar syndrome as:
A congenital birth defect which involves deformities of the face. Characteristics include:
- A partially formed or totally absent ear
- The chin may be closer to the affected ear
- A missing eye
Because of the Goldenhar Syndrome Austin is dealing with, he has undergone 52 surgeries. His mom, Kera, set up a fundraiser to help pay for surgery number 53. Kera described 14-year-old Austin’s journey this way:
[His surgeries have included] cleft lip and [palate] repair, G-Tube, Tracheotomy, Bone anchored hearing aid, external ear reconstruction, Bone Grafts, Orthodontia, and multiple Mandible Distractions.
Austin has grown into a kind, intelligent and gentle young boy even after enduring bullying most of his life. He has a great future in front of him, as well as many more surgeries.
Austin’s next surgery will be his 53rd. It is a major surgery to repair his open palate. Insurance won’t cover the plate they will be using to close his palate. It costs $4,000.
As I record this, the campaign has raised $87,542 from 4,034 people. Simply beautiful. And Kera’s right. Watching Austin on his video, I see a kind, happy, beautiful human being.
And his story is evidence of civil society in action. I’ve talked before about what English statesman Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of society that need to be strong in order to meet the needs of our family, friends and neighbors. Austin’s story is the story of individuals, you and me, uniting to form a little platoon to help, in this case, a complete stranger.
Think of the results. Those who donate feel great for helping out in their own small way. For their part, Austin and Kera say they feel deep gratitude toward this little platoon of strangers. They feel the love of 4,000 people saying, “Austin, we love you. Kera, it must be so hard to handle the financial and emotional burden. You are both awesome. I can’t do much, but I want to help. Here’s my donation.”
Another consequence of sturdy little platoons is that they reduce the need or opportunity for government to grow in its size, scope and services. Smaller, more focused government means less taxes, less waste, less need for the impersonal bureaucracy of government to enter into the delicate details of people’s personal lives.
Think of practically any government program — youth detention centers, prisons, police, food stamps, Medicaid. Now, think about this. Instead of those government programs, what if we met those needs? What if family, friends, and churches nurtured their children so they stayed out of government correctional programs and prisons? What if neighbors kept an eye out for each other and their kids and banded together to share their food, money and resources with those in need? Wouldn’t the care given to our neighbors in need be more personal, more loving? Wouldn’t your life be more deeply enriched this way, instead of just paying more and more in taxes to “let government take care of it?”
Some neighborhoods already work this way. Let’s do our part to spread it, to build our own little platoons. Find a community nonprofit, or a church, or a club that you can be a part of. Find a cause to which you can donate your time or money. The more we can help our neighbors, or even strangers like Austin, the less we’ll have to depend on the impersonal, often unreliable arm of government.
If you want to learn more about Austin’s story, search for “Support Austin Our Hero” on the gofundme.com website.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.
This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.
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