Upon hearing of or meeting someone in need, it seems to be the socially acceptable thing to commiserate or offer sympathy (or appear to, anyway) and proffer one’s willingness to help with such niceties as, “You just let me know if there’s anything I can do.” There may be people out there who actually mean it from the heart. But, more often I have found that such mouthings are a smokescreen for hiding one’s reluctance to actually get involved or do anything of practical value that helps with an actual need rather than offer a generalized, non-specific panacea that assuages someone’s conscience with a “good deed” without actually meeting a real need or moving someone toward a long-term solution.
I can’t count the number of times I have called someone’s bluff and actually let them know an actual modest need that would be easy to accommodate, only to find them suddenly back pedalling like mad when they realize they are actually being asked to do something. They didn’t really mean it. It was just a skin deep platitude. Faced with real need, many people panic and scramble for excuses why they can’t or start citing “policy” and “rules” instead of taking into consideration the character and situation of the individual. They are so afraid of enabling the poor life skills and choices that they hear about in the media or maybe even have witnessed in another individual, that they don’t take time to notice that the person in front of them is not that person. If they do help, it comes so tightly wrapped about in rules made for a person of a different character that it ends up not really helping as it only feeds an assumption that “people like us” need to be controlled because we have no common sense and cannot possibly make good decisions on our own.
As a result of such fear of systemic abuse, the church at large has handed over control of “solutions” to social problems to the government — an entity that Del Tackett (The Truth Project – Focus on the Family) points out was never designed or designated by God to handle such issues. I rather suspect (highly) that is probably why such programs do not actually work very well. Government programs are not based on actual relationship. Those designated to help know nothing of the person asking for help nor allow themselves to care about them personally. It is all reduced to dehumanizing formulas and policies that more often than not do not fit the specifics of an individual’s situation in a way that can really lead them to long-term solutions. It all comes down to numbers on paper and any consideration or emotion is taken out of the equation.
Churches and resource services more often than not play an endless game of pass the buck because organizations that actually provide help are few and the rest point fingers at each other, “No, we don’t actually provide the services ourselves. Call ABC Church or referral agency. Maybe they can help. But ABC and the agency are merely pointing somewhere else. Even if they point to a place that actually provides services, they are all pointing to the same ones. But they all point somewhere else for more ideas. However, no one actually has any new ideas. There AREN’T any! And when you tell them you have already called the places they suggest, they have no idea what to do.
It’s like they think the magic answer is always “someone else” and are surprised that calling said service did not produce the needed answers. So then they insist that you call again because maybe you are lying about how hard you have tried or you might get a different answer this time. They really just don’t know what else to tell you when “the system” doesn’t work the way they think it works. They have this idea that it works a certain way and cannot fathom that the inside experience is not what they expect.
In truth, the system that is charged to help the needy, actually strips them of their dignity, cares nothing of their feelings or actual needs or what led them to this point or what they are doing to move forward. The only thing that matters is robotic conformance to the program rules and policies and even those who are conscientiously following the rules, regularly get thinly veiled threats and lectures about the consequences of breaking the rules as if they are trying to circumvent the system, even when they are not even thinking of causing that kind of problem. But the system, although theoretically designed to promote growth toward self-sufficiency, almost punishes independent thinking, responsible behavior, ambition and work ethic. They are so ingrained with the notion that everyone who walks through their doors is a scam artist, destined to cheat, lie and steal to get more than they deserve that they don’t recognize honesty, integrity and character when they see it.
They assume a need for control and self-protection that justifies an impersonal, policy-based approach to social services and that their clients have handed over all right to self-determination, intellect and emotion by admitting their need for help. They expect emotionless, brainless obedience as if their clients are programmed beings with no ability or desire or right to think for themselves; and this paradigm of the needy has crept into the larger culture, even into the church. So when confronted by a real person with a brain, a prayer and a plan, one who is living through difficult circumstances but maintaining godly character and integrity through it all, they just don’t even know what to do or say because not all needy people fit the stereotype they are expecting. Or in the immortal words of the Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi, “These are NOT the droids you are looking for.”
PSA on behalf of all needy people: We are NOT the one size fits all problematic people that you expect. We cannot be programmed to jump through your hoops to assuage your conscience and alleviate your unjustified fears that we are some kind of nebulous and pandemic evil or disease that you must protect yourself against. We are individuals with intelligence, thoughts, feelings, dreams. Some of us actually ARE motivated to do whatever it takes to work ourselves out of the bad situation. Some of us us do actually take responsibility for our own poor choices that landed us where we are and are taking definitive and determined steps to make sure history never repeats itself. You are doing us no favors by lumping us in with those who see public assistance as a career oppportunity rather than a temporary way to get over a rough spot and never go back. I don’t care how many people you have known, seen, read or heard about that are or seem to be welfare lifers. The problem will never get solved by treating every needy person as a stereotype, worst-case scenario. Want to really help — next time you meet a needy person, get to know them as an individual. Find out their PERSONAL strengths and weaknesses, the resources they have already accessed and what they still need help with. Interact with them as a friend, not as a “do-gooder project.” No one wants to be someone’s project. Don’t offer food, socks and blankets, when the real need is medicine or medical care, or stable housing or a job with adequate income to be self-sustaining, or education to qualify for such a job. See past the stereotype and preconceived notions and find the person inside. There’s a real human being in there….stop looking for droids to control and find the humanity and the compassion to notice their actual character beyond popular assumptions. It’s what Jesus would do. What He did, how He demonstrated love. When we starting imitating our Master, we will really change the world.
Be strong and courageous for the LORD your GOD will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
I am not ashamed for I know in Whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard that which I have entrusted to Him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12