The Politics of Poverty

I saw a commentary by Glenn Beck on the CNN website today about poverty. Unfortunately his commentary rails on Democrats in city hall, where I find that the bigger story is the idea that hand-outs do not help most people get out of poverty. While this might be considered a hallmark of Democratic policy, I feel the fact that these mayors are pushing hand out type programs is more important than their party. I imagine this was Beck’s intent, but it gets lost in the rail.

Poverty and Change

In life, the biggest changes are most often precipitated by some form of challenge. I am sure there are exceptions to this rule, but looking over my life, as well as lives of others I know, it is the moments of extreme challenge that have brought about the most extreme change. If there were programs to focus people on positive outcomes through their hardships rather than programs to relieve their pain by paying them, I believe we would see a much more radical change in the poverty level.

I have recently spent some time with the Total Transformation Program. If you are not familiar, this program is heavily advertised on the radio here in Nashville. The program, created by Child Behavioral Specialist, James Lehman, shows parents how to alter their child’s behavior in positive ways by changing the way we respond to acting out. One of the primary realizations I have through the program is my children’s acting out is due to their inability to cope because they do not have proper problem solving skills. One of the things I do that exacerbates the situation is picking up after them.

Now, these sound like very different beasts, but there are some very astounding similarities, when you look underneath the hood. When I pick up my daughters’ things, I am perpetuating the myth they are incapable of solving the problem and making it a reality. I relieve some of their pain (by removing their need to clean up) and I also remove the challenge of having to solve the problem. In like manner, when our primary focus is on paying away the pain of the poor, we remove the challenge of having to solve the problem.

Teaching Men to Fish

The following has become a mantra in Conservative circles:

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day
Teach a man a fish, feed him for a lifetime

On the surface, this is the key to poverty and change. We have to get people learning to fish if we want them to rise from the ashes of their former life. But, this is an oversimplification, as starving men do not learn. We have to both give men fish and teach them to fish to solve the problem. This means there are certain types of “handouts” that need to exist.

The end run here is both Democrats and Republicans, or if you like, Liberals and Conservatives are right. One might have a slightly higher rate of success with their program alone, but I am sure we will find that neither type of program by itself is as effective as both together.

Peace and Grace,


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