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When the Oklahoma Standard Fails…

Every Oklahoman has a story about the Oklahoma City bombing. We all remember the news reports, the fear, the stress of trying to find where our loved ones were and if they were okay in a time before cell phones. We all know or know of someone who lost their life that day. And we all feel overwhelmed by emotions when we visit the memorial. But what I always remember is how people didn’t run away from the crumbling building. They ran into it to help others get out.

In May 2013, a tornado tore through Moore causing death and destruction. Schools, businesses, and homes were leveled. The devastation made national news, and for a few weeks, our tragedy remained in the headlines. But the thing that most people were struck by was our response. The day after the tornado, I ran to a Sam’s Club on my lunch break to purchase bottled water and work gloves to donate for the cleanup efforts, only to find that they were sold out already. In fact, the aisles were blocked off so the employees could have a moment to restock them. Every local business was accepting donations or directly helping in the cleanup process.

And that’s what the Oklahoma Standard is. We are united in the act of service to one another. While Oklahoma has grown exponentially, everything still has the small town feel. We all know one another by two degrees of separation or less. Perhaps that’s why people are really trying to make “The Big Friendly” happen. And I tend to agree. On occasion, Oklahoma has renewed my faith in humanity.

Though, admittedly, there are more occasions where Oklahoma has made me lose my faith lately.

I bring up two of the most tragic events in state history because I would like to pose some questions. Why are we only good people in the face of tragedy? And can we really call it the Oklahoma Standard when we don’t uphold it all the time?

I’m aware that asking why we’re only good people in the face of tragedy may make me seem like a hypocrite. My only contribution to the tornado efforts were the donations that could easily be purchased on my lunch break. I didn’t volunteer to clean up, and the majority of my monetary donations occurred in TLO-sponsored events where the proceeds from my beer drinking went to the cause. Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve only ever used the Oklahoma Standard hashtag to discuss ranch dressing.

Perhaps you’re a better person than me. (It’s not hard to do.) Perhaps you donate more of your time and money. Perhaps you truly want to make the world a better place. If that describes you, please don’t take offense. I only seek to point out that perhaps we, as a state, need to try harder to be good samaritans all of the time if we want to use that hashtag.

And as for upholding the Oklahoma Standard all the time, it’s obvious we don’t. In case you haven’t heard, the Oklahoma City Council passed an ordinance yesterday to ban panhandling on city medians. Proponents of the ordinance claim it is out of concern for the safety of those in the median, though, that’s hard to believe. An ordinance banning panhandling in medians couldn’t offer half as much as a social safety net that prevented people from needing to panhandle.

Back in October, Louis wrote about his experience panhandling in Oklahoma City. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to. It’s a point of view we don’t often to get to read. And then, when you’re done reading it, scroll through the comments. Ask yourself if that’s the Oklahoma Standard.

If you ask me, it seems like we only want to help nice middle class families in extreme circumstances like tornadoes or bombings. It's like we can’t believe that homeless people are actually people. We distance ourselves from those most vulnerable, because we don’t believe that it could happen to us. We are uncomfortable seeing panhandlers in medians when we should be uncomfortable thinking about how many of them go to bed hungry, or without a roof over their heads.

I would like to invite every last one of our readers to think for a moment. How much money sits in your savings account? How much money stands between you and the need the panhandle? What happens if you develop a mental illness? Do you have relatives you can fall back on if things get really tough? What would happen if you didn’t? What happens when there are fewer jobs available? It’s only a matter of time before the boom and bust of the Oklahoma economy and job market touches us all.

I’m well aware that this is not a black and white issue. There are many sides, and many parties affected. But what I do know is that a solution that isn’t a win for both sides is not sustainable. Criminalizing poverty won’t fix any issues if no alternatives are offered.

So, next time you think about the Oklahoma Standard, think about what that really means. And if we want to make it harder for the most vulnerable members of society to do what they need to do to survive, perhaps it’s time we re-branded the Oklahoma Standard.

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