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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reasons for Giving

It's that time of year again. As mentioned at length in my previous post, I LOVE the holiday season. I'm super stoked this year because I love the plans I have lined up: A large turkey-day with family and friends at my cousin's house (there will be an OBSCENE amount of food there) and an expanded 'orphan's' Christmas with lots of friends who are like family. There may even be a cameo appearance by my Mom in there somewhere (which would be awesome!!!!!). I have so much gratitude this year it's coming out of my ears. Even so, I can't help but think of the less fortunate and wish there was something more I could do.

Whenever I've envisioned my ideal future, it involves me miraculously coming into money (via a book/movie/work deal) and having enough land to grow food with plenty to share. I fantasize about setting my life up in such a way that money has less importance (living frugally, making a lot of things myself, going solar, growing a lot of my own food, etc.) and thereby having enough money to do something tangible about the things I see that hurt my heart (especially the homeless problem). I'm not a people-person at all (and in fact am quite agoraphobic) so the hands-on approach isn't something I can do, but it doesn't mean I don't care and don't see the need. I'm so fortunate, especially this year, but it wasn't always so.

I am so lucky to have had my grandparents to set an example for me. They always emphasized that helping another person should be about that person. It should be done in a way that allows that person their dignity. It's why, on the rare occasion that I can help financially, I give money. I do it quietly, and move on. I can almost hear the collective groan from my readers: "What if they spend it on drugs/beer/whatever?" What if they do? But what if it's the first opportunity they've had to do laundry in a long while? Or the first chance to get a hot meal? The point is to give without strings or expectation. Another person's life and choices are none of my damned business. My choices are to help or not. If they spend it on beer, they do. I recently discovered that my daughter does exactly the same thing for the same reasons. Have I mentioned that she's an awesome human being?

People have this idea of the poor as dysfunctional, uneducated, mentally ill addicts who were teen parents and probably ex-cons who did something grievous to bring it all on themselves. First of all, poverty is about nothing more complicated than not having enough money to sustain oneself. Being a single parent, in and of itself, can be all it takes to get there, unfortunately. It's true that some of the aforementioned issues can run concurrently with poverty or even be a primary cause, but they are all separate issues, and issues that folks who don't have money-problems can have too. We need to stop vilifying the poor and making them 'other'. We are all human beings on this planet. I know there are folks who are all about the individual and me-ism, thinking they can just set some kind of example. I'm familiar with the erroneous belief-system that assumes that all people need is a little motivation. In that vein, I'm certain that a man with no legs is not likely to be inspired by how fast YOU run, literally or figuratively. No man is an island. Nobody has omnipotent control over even their own circumstances. It is absolute ignorance to believe otherwise.

Think about it: Person A and person B are born into similar circumstances. Person A's parents pay for their education and sign off on all the big purchases. Hell, person A might even have a credit card in their name that mommy and daddy pay for. Person A starts life in pretty great shape: No educational debt, a house (equity), and even a little good credit courtesy of Mom and Dad. Person B has to work their way through school, but even so, has a mountain of debt dogging them for life. Person B also has to rent (nobody to sign off on the big purchases+school loans=rent) and is pretty much stuck. Both can do okay, but if something unforeseen happens (like cancer), person A is in much better shape to absorb the financial repercussions, but person B is screwed. Unfair, but true. And many, many folks start life with far less than even person B.

I think of my grandparents again. My grandmother especially was full of little verbal gems :-) She loathed greed and always emphasized people over money, especially family. She used to say things like "It's nice to be seen in church in your nice clothes putting money in the basket, but if members of your own family are going without it's not piety, it's hypocrisy".  Another favorite: "If you have to take credit for it, you're doing it for yourself". I miss "Nana-isms". I miss the straightforward (and occasionally relentless) wisdom that my grandparents possessed. They didn't just say it, they believed it and lived it.

Maybe that's why I get a little crazy when I see folks on TV talking about how they are helping the poor, the poor inevitably milling about in the background. Maybe people don't want to be on TV for being poor. Why has that not occurred to anyone? Why do we have toy drives instead of just quietly giving needy parents the cash to buy toys? What is the harm in letting the parents be the heroes?  Or in letting the children choose the toys they want instead of being surprised with 'whatever' on Christmas morning? Why has none of this ever occurred to anyone? It's as though the assumption is that a lack of money somehow makes a person instantly stupid or unable to make any of their own choices, and it's not fair. And it starts with teaching children that they should feel lucky to get anything at all. What most people don't (and don't want to) understand is that needing and asking for help is humiliating.

I'm more about empowerment. You don't empower people by taking their choices away and throwing them crumbs. You don't empower people by using them and their suffering to lift yourself up and talk about what a great person you are. You don't empower people by telling them that if they don't have money, there must be something wrong with them. What IS that? Nobody wants handouts or crumbs. what people want are opportunities, real ones. Not the opportunity to struggle and be treated like disposable crap at a low-paying job, but REAL opportunity. I would have given anything for the opportunity to save myself. But I'm person B, and a single parent. I fully understand the shock of discovering that daycare costs more per hour than I can make and all the fun little shenanigans that follow that discovery. I feel that my perspective is unique because I fell from one world straight into another, and it was one I was completely unprepared for. The difference in the way I was suddenly treated was shocking and frankly, unacceptable. It was my fortunate upbringing that helped me to survive and pull myself out, but I didn't forget a thing. But how are people supposed to have any hope?

So clearly, this post got away from me. Even so, I hope that what I've written here gives you something to think about. I'm not saying don't donate to the food shelf and don't buy toys for the toy drives (in fact PLEASE DO! They are really in need!!). Right now, that's what there is and it's preferable by FAR to doing nothing. But please keep in mind that the folks who are struggling do so all year round, that they are not struggling because they want to. Many of them work and have children, many are veterans, are disabled, are elderly. All are human beings, each one a soul with value and purpose. Please don't let the media lie to you or the few who abuse the system convince you that the poor are somehow undeserving of your love and respect. While it's true we are all responsible for our own lives, we are here for each other too. We all need help sometimes, and I'll value human beings over cash any day.

On that note, I hope you have  an awesome turkey day!

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