How to stay poor

My previous post on the subject of poverty referenced John Scalzi’s article “Being Poor“. Scalzi gives a very moving account of what poverty feels like, from the inside.

Now, here’s an article that pretty much shows why some people stay poor.

One thing I noticed about Scalzi’s article, and especially the comments, is that it was written by someone who used to be poor. But because he, and many of his commenters, didn’t fall into any of the self-destructive traps Ms. Phelps mentions in her article, he didn’t stay poor.

There are those who are poor because of circumstances beyond their control (for example, one of the commenters to Scalzi’s article had to have cancer surgery while unemployed and insurance-less. That will pretty much wipe out anyone’s resources.) But there are also those who are poor because they’ve never been taught how not to be poor, and they’re trapped by the consequences of their bad decisions. The former just need a bit of extra help: a raise, a job schedule centered around the public transportation timetable, discounts on necessities like food and clothing. The latter, as Ms. Phelps’ article demonstrates, would actually be harmed rather than helped by that kind of assistance. What they need, essentially, is an authority figure who will — lovingly but firmly — tell them, “If you don’t change X, Y and Z in your life, you’ll never escape poverty.” And then — this is important — sticks with them. Otherwise it becomes the kind of condescension that the Bible condemns in James 2:16, mere words without action, utterly useless.

Anyone who reads Scalzi’s article and doesn’t feel compassion for the poor, and a desire to help them, has no heart. But it’s important to understand the individual you’re helping, and know exactly what kind of help they need. If the brain does not work alongside the heart, your well-intentioned assistance may end up actually harming the person you’re trying to help. Brain and heart working together, though, are a powerful combination.

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