Limits of Compassion in America

Monday, December 08, 2014
A friend of mine posted something on Facebook this morning about raising the minimum wage and how, since 1978, the real value of minimum wage has dropped 25% while the cost of education has risen 1120% and everyone says that poverty wage workers just need to go to school. The backlash was heated, and interesting to read.

What I read was a lot of 'people need to work harder- people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps like I did'. One woman compared herself to these folks, stating she had to work and go to school at the same time to finish in 7 years. (I did the same)

I won't get into statistics here- though there are myriads of them. How a large percentage of the working poor ARE working more than one job- that they are often spending more time away from their families than the average worker and yet have less to show for it. We'll just skip all that.

What was notable in this exchange was someone accused this woman of not being 'compassionate' and she heatedly disagreed. I hear the same kind of argument from people all the time- especially ones who claim to be Christians.

Here is the reality here. Let's say she really did make some poor choices early on- had a few kids- - found herself in a mess economically. She is, for one thing, white. BIG advantage. She also lives in a predominantly middle class town- and chances are she at least had SOME support for her choice to return to school- people who were willing to help her navigate the process- support of friends of family to help babysit kids. She probably had picture ID and a copy of her birth certificate- and tax forms to file her FAFSA with. She may even have had more than that but- let's leave it there.

People in poverty don't always have all that. If they're under 26 and not married, they have to use their parents taxes. Sometimes they have no clue where a parent is. Sometimes the parents don't file taxes for whatever reason. No tax forms- no scholarships- no financial aid. Period. I have fought this on more kids than I care to list and the colleges will not approve them for a waiver- even kids who have been on their own financially since before they were even 18.

People in poverty are usually working more than 1 job- so adding school to that is impossible. And in a small town- how do you find someone to babysit your kid from 7 pm to midnight? Or any other time that isn't a basic 8-5 or even an 8-8 pm shift. Many folks in poverty work shift work- so finding child care is an impossibility.

They also often do not have ANYONE in their family who attended college- and therefore have no clue how it works- what the timelines are- when  you have to get things pulled together by. Having moved more often than others- they also sometimes do not have their own paperwork in order, or photo id's.

The point of all this is: This woman's compassionate nature extended to the limits of her own social sphere- but not beyond that. Her compassion was reserved for people who EARNED it- who had done what she thought of as minimum effort to better themselves.

Poverty is something that is being studied and can be researched. There is real data about it. And here is something everyone who thinks they are compassionate should know:

If you are JUDGING- you cannot help.

People in poverty KNOW when they're being judged. They're not stupid. They know when people look down on them- think they aren't "enough"

They don't get to venture into this new world with family and friends cheering them on- giving them support- saying they know they can do it. They often are fighting people in their own family who tell them they're crazy- that they're not smart enough- that they aren't ever going to make it. People who may even resent their attempts to try, having not had opportunities themselves.

It's easy to sit back on our very privileged thrones and judge those whose lives look different than ours. It's very easy to think people should pull themselves up by their boot straps- never even imagining there are those who don't even have boots. We assume- we fill in the blanks of their lives- and we judge. We call it whatever makes us feel better- but we judge.

If you are JUDGING- you cannot help.

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