To paraphrase an old adage: give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.
We’ve developed a culture in which the poor receive aid without conditions. We believe that they are poor because of bad luck or circumstances, or because their parents or other family was poor.
We, as a society, believe some are poor because they are lazy, resentful or don’t have the skills to hold a job. The poor believe they are poor because they have been discriminated against, treated badly by employers or, they believe the government somehow owes them.
How we would love to change the thought process of poverty. On Aug. 4, 2014, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran two columns – one by the New York Times’ David Brooks, and the other by engineer and former Atlanta Falcon William White – that discussed the thought process of the poor.
Brooks talked about character development among the poor. He quotes Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution as saying that both progressive and conservative orthodoxies in dealing with poverty do so in the abstract. He believes the orthodoxies view the poor as a species of “hollow man,” whose destiny is shaped by economic structures alone.
White, on the other hand, grew up poor in Lima, Ohio. His father worked in a foundry, in which the only air-conditioned place was the engineer’s office. He was determined to succeed in school and become an engineer. As it happened, he also had a successful 11-year career in the National Football League, after graduating with an engineering degree from The Ohio State University.
What both Brooks and White are saying is that circumstances shouldn’t define a person. They also say that fewer people would be in dire circumstances if they just had the belief that they could get out of them.
We, as a society, can’t want success for anyone more than he wants it for himself, as White has shown. We hate to see anyone live in poverty, but we can’t give anyone the desire to get out. If you have the desire to get out, you WILL get out. You will fight through your circumstances and become successful.
Brooks says we should teach people in dire circumstances several things to help them out of their own situations. First, we teach good habits. If you change behavior, you will change disposition eventually, Brooks writes. He cites many government programs that help poor parents and students to observe basic etiquette and practice small, but regular, acts of self-restraint.
Then, we have to show them opportunity. Most of us, Brooks writes, can only deny short-term pleasures because we see the path between self-denial now and something better down the road.
Third, exemplars. Character is not developed individually. It is instilled by communities and transmitted by elders, Brooks writes. That brings to mind another adage: if you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you.
Fourth, standards. People can only practice restraint after they determine the sort of person they want to be, Brooks writes.
In other words, give people something to shoot for, instill in them the belief that they can get it and show them what they need to do to get it.
If your circumstances aren’t what you want them to be, there are many vehicles out there that could help the person who wants to change his life, and has a vision of what he wants his life to be. For one of the best, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau.
So if you don’t like your circumstances, don’t wallow and blame. Dream that life can be better, believe that YOU can make it better, then step up and do what you need to do.