The minister and the citizen

Imagine if the health minister showed up incognito in the hospital.

yaakov ben-yizri 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yaakov ben-yizri 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Every child is familiar with some version of the tale of the Prince and the Pauper. You know, the story where the Prince, traveling incognito, learns all sorts of unpleasant truths about his subjects' true feelings. In best fairy-tale tradition he then goes back to the palace and mends his ways. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that story were to be acted out here? Now, obviously the security of the top echelons of our government is a concern, and therefore they can only go around surrounded by bodyguards. But would it endanger the health minister - and by the way how many people know who the health minister is, or would recognize Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, in the street - to actually go into a health-fund clinic incognito and sit in a queue? Could not Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, accompanied, if he felt the need, by one or two young and fit friends, ride on a bus? They could sport false mustaches, dark glasses or carry a zimmer frame, just for the thrill of dressing up if they wished. It would be too much to hope for that Education Minister Yuli Tamir would go back to school, but how about acting as a teacher's aide for a day? When Ariel Sharon was first hospitalized with his stroke, much was made of the fact that he received the same treatment in the same ward as any member of the general public similarly smitten. But he did he? An MK feeling unwell in the Knesset is seen immediately by a doctor on the premises, and that is as it should be. However, our health minister should experience health care as it is for the rest of us. He should not make the occasional and well-publicized visit to health fund or hospital, where all the members of staff were informed ahead and are ready to greet him. IF OUR transport minister borrowed a wheelchair from Yad Sarah and then waited at a bus stop for a bus equipped to transport a chair, that pulled up close enough to the sidewalk to allow him to board with the chair, and had a driver not too impatient of the delay involved in boarding the chair, he might be more in tune to the difficulties of the disabled traveling on public transport. Or let him accompany a young woman, encumbered with stroller, shopping and crying baby, and take a bus trip. Let him hail a taxi on a wet day and not have the temerity to tell the driver to stop smoking or speaking on his mobile phone or both, because the driver is quite capable of saying, "If you don't like it get out and walk." I should like to see the transportation minister waiting to cross the road at a traffic light holding a small child by the hand. The light changes to green in his favor but just as he is about to cross, a car whizzes round the corner and just misses him. Why? Because the light is also green for the car turning. A simple delay on the timing of the traffic lights would fix it, but it doesn't get done, because no one with the power to insist it gets done is inconvenienced by it. The late Alistair Cooke once wrote in one of his "Letters from America" that many of us do not remember the earth-shattering events that occur unless we are directly involved. Instead we judge the passing years by "That was the year that Auntie Betty got married." And so it goes in everyday life. We all worry constantly about safety. We all worry about the cost of living and making ends meet. But what, by the end of the day, has us tired, depressed and frustrated are just the small, niggling day-to-day problems that make life uncomfortable. And many of those problems are freely solvable or would cost only a minimal amount, if only our elected representatives would make themselves aware of them, and decide to do something to improve things. Until they do it is hard to believe that you and I really matter to those that we, the public, elected. We live in a democracy but our elected representatives are just as insulated from us as oriental potentates in their palaces. We neither need nor want the occasions when someone in the government comes to us and says they feel our pain. We want them to experience our pain so they can set about curing it. We want them, if only for a few hours, to feel the pricks and annoyances of everyday life. We don't want their sympathy, we want their empathy. The writer lives in Jerusalem.