this unraveling of what is the common issue that stops “help” from being effective is slowly revealing some interesting things.
Its like “help” and “change” get lost as soon as they get started because they get sucked into a vortex of machinery that is in place to do it, but cannot even manage its own existence well. I have had a lot of conversations of late about the culture and industry of “help.” It really has become its own marketplace. The institution of social welfare provides for an awful lot of jobs and has its own culture that like any culture or group, has become enamored of and committed to its own existence more then devoted to its mission. That is just the way things tend to go when you try to administrate a large effort on a large scale, its not the only way but it seems to be adopted as the standard approach and expectation. I forget where it is but they have a huge budget available to infuse the programs for the homeless but will not use it because they recognize that the system is so corrupt and wasteful, the money would never make it to benefit the people it is meant for.
And as one man told me, “the people who are willing to strive to get out of the system don’t get the help, the people who get the help are the people who are willing to stay within the system – justifying its existence by their presence and their need.” Need has become a form of currency that is paid to receive services. Think about that.
One of the problems I am beginning to see is that when it comes to dealing with issues of social welfare and social justice that we tend to slide into abstractions from the get go. We may be moved to help because of our understanding of people’s suffering, but once we are “helping” there are no longer any people there, there are just abstract populations like – the homeless, the poor, the disabled.
The people and groups I see that are most effective in offering help and support to the communities they serve are the ones that include members of that community in the actual planning and implementation of the effort.
It is easy to begin deciding what needs to be done for someone else because you have developed an abstract theory of how to approach the issue. That kind of thinking make you lose touch with the realities of the population being served. What may have taken 8 years and three grants to develop as an plan of action no longer fits the realities of what is needed; but it won’t be let go because too much has been invested in it.
The people I see who are most effective follow a kind of four part plan. They are involved on a global level with the issue (this usually takes the form of information gathering and education, write-a-thons, donations and so on); they are involved on a national level (voting, advocating, educating, helping to run agencies, studies etc); they are involved on a local level (with organized efforts to reach a community) and, and , and they are involved on a personal level (where they give of their own time and lives to form and maintain relationships, friendships with members of the community; not an abstract relationship – like the relationship between someone volunteering in the soup kitchen to the person being served, but a concrete one, the coming out from behind the counter and sitting and talking with the person as a friend).
Drop any one of those four and the person starts to spin a bit. Do only one of them and they are not effective at all.
It helps develop a flexible mind that can keep track of both the “big picture” and the person as well.
This Thursday is the three year anniversary of the SpeakEasy Cafe open mic radio show. I am worrying a little poem I have going to try and get it ready to read.
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