There are only a few topics that have the power to cause people to speak so vehemently more than the welfare system. Both sides of the political system have valid arguments for and against welfare and I believe both are required to maintain a system of checks and balances. At the core of the issue, I think, is the reality that there is a very fine line between helping someone and enabling them to stay stuck in their unfortunate circumstances.
Certainly, anyone who has a beating heart has the capacity – if not the will – to have compassion for someone who has been dealt some tough cards in life, causing the person in the unfortunate circumstances to rely on the generosity of others. I think, perhaps, it’s the period of time for this type of reliance that causes people to question whether someone is truly (still) needy or, perhaps, taking advantage of or “milking” the system (after all, why buy the cow….?). This prompts people to make certain judgments, it’s natural. Judgment balances mercy and vice versa. When someone (or a group or society of someones) offsets the balance, those who are providing the help start to feel resentful, taken advantage of, angry. This is true in the case of money, time, energy, attention etc….when we perceive that someone is getting more than (what we deem) their fair share, we get mad. And maybe we should. Please let me explain.
My daughter has this great book, “The Fawn’s Gift” which is a Lakota (Sioux) legend. It tells of how G-d (“Wakan Tanka”) created all creatures with gifts, but not all creatures receive all gifts. This is to ensure that everyone and everything has a fair chance at being protected and being able to hunt and survive and procreate. The bear is given strong claws and large frame to get enough food to keep it alive. The buck is given the ability to run fast (from predators) and strong hooves to dig up food. The fawn, however, cannot protect or feed itself, so Wakan Tanka paints the fawn pale tan with white spots so that it may be hidden from predators, and takes away its scent so that predators cannot smell it. When the fawn grows, it loses its spots and its scent returns, because, to allow it to remain hidden would be unfair to the others who rely on the deer for food themselves. It’s a sublime story that brings me so much contentment.
Why am I telling you about this fawn story? Well, partially to state that everyone of us is given gifts that we may choose to open/use… or not. Like a child on Christmas morning, surrounded by gifts, there may be the tendency to forget one or two of them, leaving them wrapped under the tree. When we have so much given to us without giving back- whatever it is we have to offer- we create an imbalance. Fellow financial advisor Dena Frenkel wrote a great article for the March 2011 edition of Financial Planning magazine titled “Advisor of Faith”. She described many Hebrew phrases and their relation to finances (you can see why her message resonated so strongly with me). One in particular pertains to my topic today; The Hebrew word “tzedakah” means “justice”. “It is right and just that we share some of what we have with others – money, time or even kindness. Even the poorest person has this obligation…If you are just a taker, you create an imbalance in the world. The long tradition of tzedakah includes the idea that those who need help will not take more than they need. They will be motivated to become self-sufficient so that they don’t drain society’s resources.” Dena Frenkel, “Advisor of Faith”, “Financial Planning” magazine, March 2011. But, too often, people make welfare (well-fare) their lifestyle; they continue to take long after they could have improved their circumstances themselves. But how many, I wonder, fail to realize what they have to offer? Are they leaving gifts unopened out of laziness, ignorance, or depression? Or something else entirely?
Makes you wonder.