10.20.2006

Charity or Compassion

I have written not one but two posts this month about the
ineffectiveness of charity to alleviate poverty, so perhaps I have
made my point already. But let me say it again, since I so got on my
soapbox on the issue earlier this week while talking a walk with my
wife that she actually said, "Yeah, OK, I get it."

The subject was homelessness but it could've been any one of a dozen
other facets of poverty. In recounting to her a recent article about
Philadelphia's growing homeless population despite commendable and
successful efforts over the past few years, I said, "It's working in
Philly because the people working on this find homelessness
unacceptable. So instead of making the homeless comfortable in their
homelessness, they're providing services that move people out of
homelessness and towards more productive lives."

Food given out freely doesn't solve the problem of homelessness. Food
given out in connection with people taking their medications, staying
in a shelter, and seeing a job counselor -- now that starts to get at
a solution.

Far from being uncaring, this approach is the epitome of true
compassion. Because, again, it finds homelessness unacceptable.
Unlike the unknowing do-gooders for whom the homeless become an outlet
for their self-soothing good works. Or the judgmental moralists for
whom the homeless and their "poor decisions" are "what's wrong with
our country nowadays."

Instead, poverty solutions that purposely avoid charity do so because
they have nothing to gain from people staying poor. Advocates of this
approach don't need the poor to continue to exist so as to make them
feel useful or important or better. What drives them, instead, is the
unacceptableness of poverty and the desire to see people lift
themselves from it. Give me more of that compassion, and less of the
other charity.

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