TO GIVE HANDOUTS, OR NOT?
I have this wrestle before God and the Angels every year at this time. To give or not to give is not really the question. But it is what I should give, how I should give it, and will the net result be greater freedom and happinessfor the recipients? You see, I am all about freedom and the pursuit of happiness. I am a giving woman. My profession requires an unusual measure of charity (the pure love of Christ, not alms) and patience. My greatest pleasures come from giving to others what they cannot obtain for themselves. But because that is my creed, to do only for others (my students, for example) what they cannot do for themselves, I really don’t have to give or do much at all for others. How can that be? Because most people, if given the tools, opportunity and incentive, can usually become self-sufficient. As a teacher my most significant contribution is time. I take the time to teach my students how to read, write, perform practical math functions and become adept with their personal care and safety. But, in the end, if I give well, and wisely, I don’t have to give much at all. Capish?
There are dozens of local organizations that provide food, shelter and toys to families during the month of December. I don’t fault those which are stop-gap emergency providers for families out of work, or stricken by illness, displacement, or natural or personal disaster. The poor are always among us. The number of truly struggling families has increased with the current, grinding recession. But even though the poor will always be among us, the poor should not be a static population of perpetually dependent families and individuals. Most people have the capacity to cycle out of a poverty state. A motivated employee will find the motivated employer and even a languishing economy produces.
There are school-based programs that have allowed parents to abdicate the basic responsibility of nourishing their children. Most school districts offer breakfast and lunch. Many offer dinner, summertime lunch programs and weekend meals. Most districts will try to increase the numbers of kids on free and reduced lunch because it opens the door to Federal “Title” funds. Nutrition departments will actually send applications for free lunch to people who have been eligible in the past, even if the family has no present need. The bloated nanny-state Feds have created a reciprocal loop of perpetual poverty. You will be pressured to stay “poor” because your self-sufficiency decreases the money pot. Painfully ironic I think.
There is a program in my town which provides food for children to take home on Friday so, the theory goes, they will not go hungry before they get their next meal at school. The children are not at fault. Many of them are hungry and lack for the basic human needs. But the root causes of their hunger, parental neglect, drug abuse, apathy, will not be cured by a program that further enables these folks to ignore the needs of their children. Some organization, some school, some church, some government program will feed the kids, so why should they spend their money or time on something so trivial and constant as nourishment. These programs are nearly always open to abuse. There is no screening required, just an application submitted by the parents stating that there is a need for someone else to provide food for their kids.
One of the key principles of behavior management is to not reinforce bad behavior. But each year at Christmastime countless charities reinforce the very bad, unlawful behavior of illegal aliens by practicing an “ethos” of non-discrimination. Of course no one wants to see any child suffer without the goodies that Chris Kringle plops under the tree. But there are entire communities of illegal alien families who receive charitable goods and services from churches, schools and other organizations far above and beyond the consideration given to needy citizens. The insistence that illegal alien families are just as deserving as everyone else is truly stunning to me. These are people who have chosen a lifestyle of lawlessness partially because they are not held accountable for their crimes. They openly defy the laws of this country in which they find such generous succor. And illegals further tax the social welfare programs that are stretched beyond capacity by citizen recepients. The insidious effect of the chronic reinforcement of naughty, illegal behavior is to perpetuate, and even celebrate, one of the most destructive social and economic problems faced by America in this century. This is one of the worst examples of feel-goodism run amok.
The spectre of a toyless Christmas for the unfortunate kiddies among us drives the same instinct that feeds the kiddies for the rest of the year. Nearly everyone has a “toy drive” , a “toy run” or scads of “angel trees” stationed strategically around the burgs. The bell-ringers are out in force and numberless churches and individuals fill in the blanks to ensure that no child is left bereft. I am no Scrooge, except maybe after he has his epiphany, and I love the delight of innocents as they open their Christmas booty. But along with removing the pressure from parents to sufficiently pull themselves together and function so they can feed their kiddos, the exorbitant give-away of toys also absolves the responsible parties from their responsibility to act like mommies and daddies. There are families for whom the trappings and largess of Christmas is always provided by someone else. The same families come back year after year, with the same level of desperation, never having a reason to solve their own employment or educational problems. They are the Christmas dependents, stuck, not unlike little children, in the fantasy that some fat, benevolent, magical being will always provide, so they can suck their thumbs and dream of sugar plums.
The old-fashioned notion that the need to accept charity is a cause for shame is long gone. Even the good ole’ “he’s too proud to take a handout” has gone the way of chivalry and hand-written letters. There is little or no stigma associated with allowing someone else’s hands, substance and money to support you and your wee ones. It is often an indication of street savvy and “working the system” to use handouts and government welfare so that one’s earnings can go for the good stuff in life; cars, clothes, eating-out, and big, plasma-screen TVs. It’s not unusual to see the parental units of a student on free or reduced lunch driving something big, shiny and tricked-out into the drop-off loop.
So this is the essence of that burning Christmas question; do I want to sacrifice the spiritual and temporal efficacy of people for a charitable handout? After all, giving feels good. It feels really good to gobs of people. Entire industries are built on the human instinct to support the needy. But who benefits more from the giving? Are givers often burdened by the guilt of great prosperity and material wealth? Does giving ease the guilt? And this is worth the asking; do the getters suffer on some level, being lured into a lifestyle of comfort and abundance without having to exert themselves? There is a spiritual cost to those who never know the satisfaction of self-reliance or of passing the tests that adversity presents. Does the chronic charitable handout energize or enervate? Are those perennially lifted by the hands and resources of others motivated to overcome personal paucity, or are the perquisites of poverty too great to give up for the strain of the daily grind? Can there truly be freedom where there is no independence?
I am not a government agency so I have the luxury of looking into the eyes and circumstances of those to whom I give. I will give to those who have the sorrow of need in their hearts and the light of gratitude in their eyes. I will give to those committed to make themselves the givers, not the takers, by this time next year. I will give to those who, after all they can do, are still unable to fill the voids in their larders or closets or pockets. But the best gifts of all that I will give will be words of praise, accolades, and the esteem of compliments that they have what it takes to make it on their own. They, too, deserve the satisfaction of giving what cannot be accessed by the drooping hands of the authentic poor. And if I can offer a little self-efficacy to place in one stocking to help make one person, one family, a little more free and less dependent upon anyone other than The Lord, Himself, then I can give and know that I have done so wisely. The poor will always be among us. Next year will surely reveal a different economic picture and new feet will cross my path. And so my wrestle before God and all the Angels will occur yet again.