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Our Enabling Society Versus Each One Teach One


There are many people around us who are trying their hardest to make ends meet, to survive and pay rent, school fees for their kids, shoes for their feet, electric bills, gas bills and the like.  This post is not about those who are struggling with a short term change of circumstances that has brought about hard times.  These are the souls who need short term relief, a bill paid, charity given, a helping hand.  But excuse me Church if what I say next offends you.  In the name of charity and good will we have been gross enablers of the society we seek to serve. We hand out money with no strings attached because that is what we are taught to do- give freely and generously and in kindness and love.  Pardon me, Church, if I have gotten to the place in my life where I think repetitive, recurring “charity” is NOTHING close to love.

I have no idea how it happened because it happened either before I was even thought of, or before I had an awareness of what was going on in the real world, but the Church has become a part of the processes of an enabling society rather than a counter-cultural group of talented, gifted people who want to invest their lives in the lives of others. We have gotten to the place where we would rather write a check to the electric company than form a relationship with a family in chronic need so that we might teach them how to create a more sustainable lifestyle.  Maybe that’s too much work.  Maybe we have other things we want to do. Maybe we don’t want to get our hands dirty!  Or maybe we have tried to make a real qualitative difference and we up against such barriers of denial and push-back that we simply give up and say to ourselves, “There’s really nothing we can do to fight poverty so let’s just do what comes easy. . . buy some stuff at Christmas and pay a few bills.”

Recently we were blessed to have a visitor from Malawi who told our children about the education that kids receive in her country.  They sit under a shade tree together with a teacher who has a chalkboard (if she’s lucky) and they are hungry to learn. They would give anything to be able to stay in school for as long as they can!  They don’t give their teachers any problems.  They don’t act out in class, even though they would have much reason to act out emotionally (a huge percentage are orphans who have lost their parents to AIDS). They have no shoes, the Malawi Orphan Project feeds them a meal two times a week which is their only nutritious food of the entire week, and the girls walk up to ten miles each way to get water for their families in order to cook, wash and drink. Our “poor” are rich compared to the poor of the 2/3 world!

Yamikani Chikoti of Malawi

So how do we band together, Church, and push for the society to stop enabling and start teaching those who are stuck in the cycles of generational poverty to overcome a mindset that holds them captive? (You can blast me here if you feel the need but I have seen folks work very very hard at securing gifts from churches, agencies, family members and neighbors which leads me to the harsh conclusion that if they work that hard to receive a handout they can surely commit themselves to a more honorable, fulfilling, satisfying work life.) I know that we are met with all sorts of resistance as we try to put in place parameters for creating positive change in our communities in this regard. I am all for generosity! It is what we are taught to do as Christians, however, when is helping no longer helping? We have other churches and social service agencies who WILL NOT comply and continue to do the “easy” thing and just give, give, give.  It takes way more effort to build relationships than it does to put some cash in an envelope!

So let me offer a few ideas to ponder:

* Attend a Bridges Out of Poverty Training so you might learn what in Bowen Theory is called “Societal Emotional Process.” It can be difficult for us in the Middle Class to understand the culture of those stuck in cycles of generational poverty.

*Brainstorm with your church leaders how to handle repeat requests for help.  This is a sign of a person being in trouble.

*Don’t be Paternalistic (or Maternalistic!) Create programs that teach sustainable life skills (we do canning days where we teach the putting up of food from our garden) and teach your members first (who need to learn) so that they might invite someone they know who is on the edge to come and learn and meanwhile foster healthy relationships.  It all starts with relationships! No one wants to feel “beneath” you- treat every person with kindness and compassion and most of all respect and dignity.

*Volunteer to be a part of organizations who are trying to change the systems in place that enable people to be stuck in cycles of poverty.

*Offer financial classes to those whom you assist. Insist that they come as a part of their receiving aid from you. A lot of times people are borrowing from pay day lenders to make ends meet and get themselves further in the hole because they don’t have the necessary skills to budget or even balance a check book.

* Keep at it. Keep at it. Keep at it. It does get frustrating sometimes when it seems like nothing is changing and you are running up against that enabling spirit. . . but keep the big picture in mind– creating self-sufficiency and healthy relationships and lifestyles.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. 28August2012 08:47

    There is a large difference between being ‘for’ and being ‘with!’ Well said Amy!

  2. 28August2012 08:50

    Thank you for writing this post! For those caught in generational poverty to overcome their circumstances, we have to help them in ways that are truly helpful! Attending a “Bridges Out of Poverty Training” has been suggested to me as I learn how to better serve those around me. I appreciate you underscoring that resource.

    Also, as we vote this November, we need to keep this in mind. The people we elect to represent us must understand this concept so that our government isn’t a source of enabling. Talk about “Societal Emotional Process”. Don’t mean to open a can of worms, but while we’re speaking the truth, might as well put it all out there.

    • 28August2012 09:01

      Thanks Rhonda,
      Yes go and hear and learn. You will be amazed at the stories you hear and continue to understand the differences in mindset between the poverty/middle/wealth segments of our society. Blessings!

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