Wednesday, April 11, 2007

... and the guy over there will blame Harry.

I was watching a television special the other night about Argentina, the fiscal mismanagement of many years by its governments, and how it affects the population there. Actually, the program didn't really dwell that much on the role that government played in the successive financial disasters that beset the Argentinian economy, but it is ultimately to blame. If I recall from past reading, Argentina had a 7th place standing in the economies of the world at the turn of the last century, and it is now a disaster area. It's getting better, but its citizens, rich and poor, have paid a very heavy price.

The program showed families squatting in abandoned buildings and thousands of protesters and picketers on the streets. Formerly well-to-do families had trouble making ends meet. Jobs disappeared. Real estate values plummeted. The currency was devalued. To be sure, the program was filmed several years ago, when situations were worse than today, but I thought to myself how lucky most of us are here in North America. Not all of us, but most of us. Even here, in the land-o-plenty, we have disadvantaged people. A whole industry exists to 'help' the disadvantaged. There are government programs galore, charities aplenty, committees by the hundreds or thousands, and bloggers by the tens of thousands, all focused on righting societal wrongs and on helping those who can't help themselves.

I am ambivalent about a lot of this. There is no good reason, not a single reason, why people have to be poor, either here or anywhere else in the world. Economic policies, political ideology, and corrupt leadership all serve to keep people 'down.' Where there is enough freedom for individuals to thrive financially, if they want to, most people do well enough to be able to live comfortable lives, raise their families, and even have some fun in the process. Some people, though, simply do not want to do what it takes not to be poor. It's too much work, too much responsibility. I have no pity for them. There are, however, the others who truly deserve our help and attention, due to illness or accident, and those are the people I am most interested in helping. I know mine is not a popular view: the prevailing outlook appears to be that every individual is a helpless pawn in the game of life and that he or she can't help what they become. That's nonsense. Some needy individuals might fit into that view, but not many. For most of us, every action we take and every step we make, lead us to where we ultimately end up in life.

Let's dwell on this for a moment. Most of us have a kid or two or more. What happens if we don't teach them to be financially responsible, and simply give them money whenever they ask for it? We do it because we love them, right? We want them to have a better life than we ourselves had growing up. In the process, they learn nothing about the realities of life, and when the time comes for them to take care of themselves, they have no clue how to do so. They make poor choices, spend money quicker than they earn it, and they get into financial trouble. Suddenly, they need help from others. Is it up to you to support my kid, if I screw up and turn him into a lazy and unproductive sponge? No, it isn't. And it's not up to me to support your kid(s) either, if they are physically and mentally able to take care of themselves. I am always prepared to give a 'hand up' but am not inclined to give a 'handout.' People who have no incentive to work, who have never been instilled with a work ethic and a sense of personal responsibility, will take whatever is meted out to them via various programs, then spend much of their time and energy griping and little or no time or energy trying to change their lives. It's sad, but true. Yell at me all you will, make as many nasty comments as you wish about how heartless and cruel and clued out I am; it won't alter the fact that I am right.

But, let's be fair. I am of course referring to times when jobs are available, even McJobs at minimum wage. These entry-level jobs serve a useful purpose in that workers get experience that will help them get better paying jobs in the future. I had a number of minimum wage jobs, way back when I was a young man. I didn't like them much, especially the fact that I never had any money left over after paying my bills. I used the experience to leverage myself into better paying positions and eventually into going into business for myself.

There are times, though, when enough jobs simply aren't available. There are times when things happen in our lives that keeps us from working to support ourselves and our families. It is at those times that people need, and deserve, help from the rest of us.

And that, finally, brings me to the thrust of this post. The 'Walk the Talk' website that we are building and that I have mentioned in previous posts, is an enterprise that will enable everyone who has talked about, written about, and sat on committees about the sad state affairs of the disadvantaged, the homeless, the addicts, the battered, and everyone else who needs our help, to do something constructive. That's what Walk the Talk is all about: putting our money (or our time and energy) where our mouthes are.

To be really useful, and to differentiate ourselves from sites that simply offer lists of services, we want to do more than simply match needy people up with organizations that might be able to help them. In order to truly help people, we have to teach them to want to help themselves, that if they take an interest in creating a a better life with more security and promise, they can do so. What they need to know is that it is possible, with a little sacrifice and application. What I would like to see on the Walk the Talk website, eventually, is a growing collection of life stories, where those who faced adversity and won, can write about their experience and motivate others to do the same.

Remember: if you want to be part of the process of helping out, of walking the talk, first sign up to our Yahoo Group. Then go to our Walk the Talk website and register there. Join in the discussions. Offer suggestions. Volunteer to do research or data entry. Help promote this effort. Write about it. Generate interest in it. If we all do something, this will succeed.

I can say with almost dead certainty that not all of us will agree on the best policies of governments and charities to follow in helping those in need. We will have philosophical and practical differences. You will blame Tom, I will blame Dick, and the guy over there will blame Harry. It doesn't matter, really. For the purposes of this project, we are all hitched to the same harness. We want to help those who genuinely need it, somehow. That is what matters.

So, let's help.


  1. Very interesting post. As always, I enjoy reading your take on things.

    Question for you though ~ and perhaps a challenge.

    I do not believe that anyone who is a healthy person doesn't want to be okay and secure.

    We come in a variety of shapes and sizes in this world, with a variety of capabilities.

    Example: I can not be in competitive environments. It's not a question of not liking it or not wanting to take care of myself.

    I can not do it and stay alive.

    Tried and tested. In 2005, I nearly died because I couldn't be in those toxic environments without imploding. If I hadn't gone out, I would be dead by now from either a heart attack or suicide.

    Blunt? Yeah. I have strong feelings on this topic. I think I might be hearing some white male privilege here and need to challenge it.

    Does my inability to function in competitive environments somehow make me "less than" others?


    It means I'm different. It means the size and shape I assume in this world is different than the majority of others.

    I have a small eBay business that I run here from home. I go to consignment shops, buy designer clothes and sell them on eBay for a profit.

    Hardly high finance, hardly something I can live on and hardly predatory capitalism. I am not exploiting anyone else by deception and I am not exploiting labor. I'm very clear on my ethical standing with this. Designer clothing is an optional item. No one needs it to be okay. My primary income though is from Social Security Disability.

    I cite this example for a reason. Compassionate conservatism is a philosophy that I agree with in theory, if not practice. As you know, I'm a fan of Thailand's self-sufficiency economic policy. However, compassionate conservatism and Thailand's model both require a great tolerance for diversity.

    If I am interpreting you correctly, there would be no room for someone like me in your vision? That I would be an object of "Pity", if someone chooses to give it to me? I dn't want it or need it.

    I'm probably misreading you ~ but this is how it reads superficially.

    People all want to help themselves somehow. A lot of times though, they don't know how ~ or don't have the internal resources to deal with a hypercompetitive, predatory environment.

    What say you?



  2. Atavist, this post touched a lot of nerves with me. When I came across this line, "helping those who can't help themselves" I ran into a brick wall.

    This is an enormous dilemma for me; CAN'T help, or WON'T help?

    I was widowed at age 33, and a single mother for seven years after that. I had to sell our home because I couldn't afford it on my teacher's salary at that point in my life. I drove a simple, ugly-but-reliable, Hyundai. I counted pennies before going grocery shopping. My biggest single point of pride is that I asked NO ONE for help, and received no financial help.

    Am I saying Hooray for me? Maybe a little. But, I'm also saying at what point do some people give up and expect others to carry their load? At what point should we carry another's load? I truly don't know.

    As a Christian, I believe in encouraging others, and providing the basic needs of those who despair.

    But, I've also heard that if you give a homeless person a million dollars, and take away a millionaire's money, in ten years the homeless person will be homeless again, and the ex-millionaire will have acquired his money again.

    These are difficult subjects, which I'm forced to confront as I read your last several posts. I don't have an answer. I'm trying to see if I have some knowledge which would help another single/divorced/widowed woman...

  3. Bellezza, I think it's awesome that you were able to do as well as you did. It is a good example for many women who find themselves in the same position. Personally, I don't see why you should have had to do it all without help ~ but I understand that from your cultural perspective, doing it alone is a point of pride.

    Simply though, I suspect that "won't" is truly rare. In those very rare cases, yes, perhaps someone is reaping the consequences of their choices.

    The qualifying word of course being just that, choices.

    I think there's a tendency in US and north American culture to use judgement rather than compassion as an excuse to not live up to the obligation we all have as a human community to help each other, to eliminate the most aggregious social justice problems.

    I try to do what I can for others without considering or judging how "deserving" they might be. Ultimately, I think that is between an individual and his or her god. While I don't like to think I am anyone's sucker, there are probably times I've been scammed or taken advantage of in one way or another.

    So be it. I'd rather not live my life in judgement of others, their motives or the outcomes of things.

    That kind of defensiveness is just so bloody stressful.



  4. Chani, I think you are so right in this astute comment of yours:

    "I think there's a tendency in US and North American culture to use judgement rather than compassion as an excuse to not live up to the obligation we all have as a human community to help each other."

    I know I am a far too critical and judgemental person. Which is not what I WANT to be at all. Just because I've had a lot of blessings in my life, even in terms of the inner strength I've been given, doesn't give me the right to "throw stones" at someone else. Point well taken.

  5. This is great stuff, ladies, and you have given me, with your comments and questions, a great opportunity to flesh out what is difficult to do in just one blog post. So, I am going to write another post, geared to answering some points raised here, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

    Until then, though, may I say that the two of you have already proved my point? You each encountered problems. Big problems. Did you give up, roll over and die? No. You changed your lives. You took control. You made sacrifices. You competed. You survived. And now, you can tell your stories and give others hope. We are not at loggerheads with each other at all. You are living testimony that individual responsibility rules.

    More tomorrow. And thank you, for your very thoughtful input.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Atavist.. but I think you may have missed my point. :) I have not competed. I am not competitive. Competition makes me physically, spiritually and psychically ill. Put me in a competitive environment and watch me die.

    I am an overcomer. That would be correct. I searched and searched and searched until I found what works for me... that being the outright adoption of another way of life. Please ~ see me as I am... not as you wish me to be. If you can find value there, then my earlier comments are incorrect.


    This is a very interesting discussion. Perhaps one of the most valuable I've seen on these forums yet.

    Thank you for that. Really. Thank you.



  7. I, too, am an overcomer. I believe one's greatest weakness is quitting. This is what makes me sit in judgement, when I do, on someone expecting someone else to help him/her. At some point, we must pull up our bootstraps, climb over the mountain in front of us, and get on our way. I cannot respect someone who won't do that, for we all have obstacles. Fears. Difficulties. It's how we overcome that determines our character. And, therefore, our situation.

  8. Bellezza, clearly you are an overcomer.

    Something occurs to me in thinking about this ~ and I hope Atavist doesn't ban me forever for taking up so much of his comment space ~ but even we overcomers get help along the way. Perhaps it isn't easily recognizable because it's not big, it's not grandiose.. but the daily kindnesses that come our way and give us the motivation to keep going.

    None of us does it entirely on our own. And we all need guidance of some sort along the way. Granted, we have to do the footwork but none of us is an island.

    You're right. We all have obstacles and fears, disappointments and hardships. How we get through them is the definition of grit. But then grit means nothing without grace.


    Thanks so much for this dialogue. I'm finding it tremendously valuable.



  9. one of the strategies we've used at my work to advocate for the difficulties involved with poverty is to bring "normal" people in to spend 24 hours at a shelter doing exactly what our clients have to do. I've not met one who've thought it was easy, or didn't want to go home to their own bed and sleep the whole experience off.

    Another book I'd like you to read, friend. The Devil's Highway. Add it to the list.

    I have more to say, but am exhausted after a long day.

  10. Interesting and thought provoking post. I believe that there are many who deserve and need our help and that we should do what we can. I believe in compassion for those in need and, untill recently, have always tried to do what I can.

    I have been alone in the world with two small children and a minimum income and had it not been for Medicade, I would not have been able to give them the medical care they needed and deserved.

    I believe in trying to do the best that we can, however, and have, along the way, known people who will take, as long as we are willing to give, simply because they are too lazy or self serving to do otherwise and are more interested in that hand out you mentioned, than a hand up.

    I am willing to help anyone who is willing, if at all possible, to try and help themselves, but not willing to do it for them. Like the spoiled kid, there is nothing learned, no self respect earned when responsibility for our existence is ignored.

  11. Chani, I went to bed last night thinking about this discussion, and wishing we were all in one place in person to continue it. It's SO interesting that you wrote exactly what occurred to me as I laid there:

    "None of us does it entirely on our own. And we all need guidance of some sort along the way."

    I couldn't agree more! But, here is where I may differ from you. The help I get comes from the Lord and my faith in Him. This is one of the verses that I base my life on: "I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME." Philippians 4:13

  12. Chani, as I reread my comment I hope you know I mean no disrespect when I said I may differ from you; I'm only sharing that my faith helps me.

  13. I like that word 'overcomer,' Chani, and I agree that it would likely be more descriptive of you than 'competitive.' As a practical matter, though, the words are almost interchangeable in the sense that businesspeople are also overcomers. I personally don't know any businessperson who wakes up in the morning and says "I'm going to beat Charlie today, in the game of business." It would be more along the lines of: "If we don't find a way to trim our costs and improve our quality, we are going to lose this account to Charlie over at Futzwutz Industries, and that will mean that I will have to lay off a whole shift of workers and spend the next three years trying to get my company back in shape. I had better get on it, right now." That would be much more accurate.

    And that is how individuals who face adversity deal with things too: "I am 'here,' in my present deplorable condition, and I don't like it. I am going to have to make some sacrifices and work harder or I am going to be stuck like this forever. I had better get right on it, and change my life."

    Again, it is very much the same thing.

  14. Bellezza: we all find our strength somewhere. I admire people who have the gumption to pronounce their faith to the world, especially in light of the fact that it often holds them up to disdain and ridicule. My parents' faith sustained them too and I truly respect your position.

  15. Again, it is very much the same thing.

    With all due respect, I disagree that it's the same thing.

    For one to overcome, it doesn't mean overcoming another or gaining power over another. It usually means overcoming a way of thinking or a way of living that fails to serve.

    As for businesspeople... I agree when you're talking about small businesses. I know some small businessfolk. They just try to run their little deli or their little consignment shop peacefully. It's not all that different than my selling clothes on eBay. They're not trying to bring harm to anyone.

    Just take a look at LittleMsPea's post of yesterday ~ or many others that can be found out there ~ to see some of the damage brought by corporations or big businesses. See if you can say anything to her that will make it just.. or make it right.

    One of the things I like about Thailand's self-sufficiency model is that it truly encourages self-sufficiency. This is how to farm your land more effectively.. and this is how to handle your money. It encourages small family businesses.

    I'm all for that ~ but will never support a large corporation. In my opinion, they are the closest thing to evil on this planet.



  16. Bellezza, It's okay that we might think differently.. and I also wish we could be sitting at a cafe having this discussion :)

    Granted, I might not share the same religious beliefs as you ~ but that doesn't mean I don't have faith in something bigger than me in the universe. In fact, I do ~ but I also believe that a large degree of how we express our faith is defined by how we treat each other here on the material plane.

    It's all the same thing in the final analysis. I just happen to call it "mindfulness".



  17. Holycow. Where was I over the last 24 hours. I won't comment much, because it's all been done, pretty much. But, I will comment on this:

    "No. You changed your lives. You took control. You made sacrifices. You competed. You survived."

    In reponse to Atavist's comment, with which he bases his ideas that though we can offer help, it is truly up to the individual.. I agree. However, we must not forget the psychological impact on people from their environments, childhoods, etc.. and I'm not using that as a scapegoat. And, I believe in one helping themselves - I believe in self-actualization, self-differentiation, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc... There are a lot of undereducated, reactive, naive, 'helpless' people out there.

    Many of the down-and-out are at points in their lives where motivation and hope is minimal, but worse, they do not know.. are not aware.. have no grasp that life could be different for them, and even if they imagine it to be, they do not know where to start.. I don't mean which organization to go to, I mean how to begin to think and behave like a healthy individual.. those people need intervention.. how do we reach them, we cannot force them into some sort of emotional/cognitive/behavioral rehabilitation center..

    Sidenote: On the money thing.. What happens if we don't teach them to be financially responsible, and simply give them money whenever they ask for it? Ophelia is just beginning to grasp the concept that money buys things. I had wanted to avoid this for another decade or so.. my naive ideology at work, there.. And, now, I have grandparents giving her bills and she is searching around the house for loose change to put in her 'finderskeepers' new (thanks grandma) piggy-bank.

    I would be interested to know what your views are regarding the early childhood development of financial responsibility and awareness. When I was growing up, money came through my father or a check in the mail, and I went to the bank, signed my mom's name and paid the bills with it. Any money I made, I was to give my mom 25% of my net, to help with our costs.

    I have no idea how to broach the subject of money, earnings, savings, spending, tithing, taxing, etc..

    Signed, Without too many clues..

  18. Delurking here and grinning from ear to ear. This is why The Almighty Internet was invented. Debate. Dissent. Discussion. Civility.I read regularly Atavist and sometimes what you say makes my blood boil. But I keep coming back because I know we all agree somehow. Thank you.

  19. Thank you, Caro. I too love the internet, for exactly the reasons you state: "Debate. Dissent. Discussion. Civility."

    Come to think of it, I have visited some blogs where there has beeen a distinct absence of civility, but we have a great bunch of people here. We may not all agree with each other, but we do try to be nice to each other.

    Thanks, for de-lurking! I really appreciate it when someone new drops in and says hello, even if it is to say that my words sometimes make their blood boil. As you say, though : "somehow we all agree."

  20. I hope you got that I meant " make my blood boil " in the best of ways! For me the only way to grow-as a woman, mom, citizen- is to shake things up. Give all my pre-conceived ideas a run for their money!

  21. You sound like someone, Caro, who gives careful thought to what she says and does. I would have taken no offense, even had you meant that comment in a more critical way.

  22. Not at all surprising that in a recent poll, 67% of WOMEN subscribed to liberal/"progressive"/leftist ideologies as opposed to only 41% of men.
    Touchy-feely, empty-headed-emotionalism based rationales carry the day for the collectivist. There is no logical reason to it whatever. It is purely "taken on faith"/emotionalism!