Monday, April 22, 2013

Helping the Poor: What #ittakes

The poor seem to be on the public's mind this past week. Their mention is not any different from past discussions, only this time they have infiltrated the internet. What the public wants to know is twofold: What can we do to eradicate poverty and how much of a burden do they create?

The first question will be addressed tomorrow by two global leaders who have graciously committed their time and energy to helping the poor. World Bank leader Jim Yong King and the UN's Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be holding a Twitter conversation using the hashtag #ittakes to welcome the global community to help develop strategies and debate ideas. Both men lead organizations that have succeeded immensely in expanding the needs of vulnerable groups to the global community. Their campaigns have worked to motivate nations and individuals to consider the needs of the underprivileged. But their work is far from over. There are regions still facing extreme levels of destitution, sometimes caused by lack of resources, internal conflicts, and economic mismanagement by local leaders.

The second question was covered by CNNMoney, which posted comments made by middle and working class readers who were frustrated of being jilted by the poor. The remarks are not unusual, we've heard them before repeatedly about the needy taking advantage of government handouts, living beyond their means, etc., etc. It's a damning piece if only because these sentiments are being expressed at a time when many find themselves having to rely on government assistance because of our national economic challenges. Plus, the claims are judgmental and baseless. The number of poor jilting the system can't possibly be greater than the number of middle class who a use the federal tax codes. Both are morally and legally wrong and place a similar burden on the economy.

Helping the poor begins when we stop viewing them as a problem. We need to see them for who they are: vulnerable human beings at the mercy of governments and political systems that fail them. Maybe some are playing us for fools, but we can't assume it's all or a majority of them. Most are decent citizens who would prefer better circumstances if the opportunities were available. Living on public assistance is not a privilege, but a disadvantage. Pulling out your food stamp card or cashing your unemployment check is demeaning to those entitled to these 'handouts'. Failing to feed your family or find a decent job is also humiliating. How do you explain to your children you are unable to meet their most basic needs?

To help the poor, we need to create opportunities for advancement. This does not only include raising money to buy them a few staple items. It means teaching them skills and providing them with the training in soft and hard skills that will improve their present and future conditions. Anyone can launch their own business, but it takes good a working strategy, financial intelligence, and interpersonal skills to sustain it.

These skills should not be limited to work-related ones, but should expand to helping them build their self-confidence and self-perception. They need to believe in their abilities and have hope for their own future and that of their children's. Hopelessness is a crippling condition and those who can't see beyond their despair won't try to improve their living standards.

To help the poor, we need to provide them with relentless emotional support. When we meet someone within this group who has the opportunity to own something of quality, we should applaud their effort to live a better life. Of course their higher standard should never come at the expense of decent taxpayers, but their ability to improve the quality of their lives should be encouraged.

Unless we begin to perceive our efforts as obligations and not handouts, or reach out to the poor to elevate society and not merely to pay ourselves on the back or doing a good deed, the condition of the poor will remain the same. Human beings live up to expectations, and when we hold groups of people in low regard, they will live to those benchmarks. Eradicating poverty is not a chore or a political or even economic issue, it is a human one.



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