Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Breaking Gridlock

Experts tell us a solution to our poverty is unlikely.

As America recovers slowly from the Great Recession, many of our fellow citizens remain mired in poverty. Economic trends, cultural changes, and changes in family and marriage patterns are combining in new ways that make it harder for those born on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder to lift themselves up. Poverty is changing, and policy responses must change too.   

One ray of hope is that Republicans and Democrats are increasingly talking about the intertwined problems of poverty and opportunity. But even if all agree that America must act, our growing political polarization and legislative gridlock make action seem ever less likely with each passing year. ~The Brookings Institute
This particular trend of inequality has solidified and grown rapidly for more than four decades, crossing borders and permeating the international marketplace, empowered by governmental policy and corporate business practices.  It has adversely affected hundreds of millions, and many have died.  Deaths tied directly to the financial industry exceed one million.

The American electorate will, in the next months, elect leadership for the executive and legislative branches of our government.  The electorate may then require that leadership enact a solution to persistent and imposed poverty.  Both those elected and those who placed them in office will be remembered for how they perform this duty to their fellow man.

Despite the excellent intent of many in leadership, America's reputation around the world has suffered.  Right or wrong, many blame American influence for failed governments and economies in the middle East.  In the marketplace, globalization has tied the price of maize meal in rural Kenya to Wall Street.  In our own cities, there are two paths; one for the wealthy and the other for everyone else.  Equality and opportunity are for many just distant dreams.
The solutions are not simple, and change will not be easy.  Much will be required of each for the sake of all, I suspect.  The alternative would be for the elite to continue to live at the expense of others, but even then, seed and harvest rules apply.  
That brings us to the real gridlock.

We've become soft in our thinking about love. Common use of the word suggests warm feelings and pleasant relationships. That's not the context from history, philosophy, or faith. Love is both precious and costly. It often includes setting aside personal comfort and stepping in to defend another, sacrificing for another; a broken heart over the suffering another endures may be a lifelong burden. It may cost you your wealth, your life, or a great portion of it all.  Love is extraordinarily powerful. It is choice and action, not feelings.   ... and Love is NOT soft and fluffy.
Today's most difficult choice perhaps involves giving up some of what we have. A fine gentleman with a good heart explained his reservations about sheltering refugees.  He feared he or his family might somehow lose something.  In an economy where grocery stores have a hundred types of cereal and fifty kinds of soup and hundreds of snacks and sauces and pasta and meats and breads ... and we worry we'll lose by helping a family that hasn't seen a grocery store in a year, whose children haven't seen a classroom in a year, and who've never bought new clothes.
There's a selfishness in us all that is strengthened by wealth and justified by the availability of more.  Wealth does not produce character.  If you want to see generosity, or you want to be welcomed and given a place, or you need a little help, visit the poor.  We needn't bother feeling badly about the poverty; that doesn't change anything.  We could do something, though.

Loving others for real is a life choice.  It may be a short trip for us to get on that track -

Step one - we might pick an area that our heart responds to, join with those who know how, and escalate from a little up to where it's in the budget and schedule well above Starbucks and miscellaneous.
We could pick a couple of targets we know and understand, then plan and finance them.  One local and one distant.  Help a friend, equip a family, make a difference.  Commit for the duration, know the folks involved.  It changes things at both ends.  :)
help out when you're asked, or better yet, before you're asked
help a kid through school, through college or trade school
help a family build their home and flocks and gardens
help a community build a library or a clinic
help a school with supplies for the kids
help some refugees get resettled and start over
help a community with med assistance
help a family through a rough spot
help a friend through a crisis
help a family keep their kids in school and on track
help the widowed and the orphaned here and elsewhere 
Step two - we might get involved.  We could go and see, perhaps, and get to know some of the people we serve.  If we know them well enough to love them, then we're family, sort of.
If it isn't important enough to deserve a little effort, a little inconvenience, it may not be genuine.  (If you've got kids, they should be part of the discussions, decisions, and changes.)
Perhaps an important side benefit, we don't have to feel guilty when we skip watching those tear-jerker appeals.  We'll be way down the road past that sort of thing.
Step three, if we're all-in - we could study, inquire, learn from folks who know and serve well. Review and escalate. And, keep that up for the rest of our life.