It seems as if everyone wants something for nothing these days, regardless of age.
Something For Nothing
Some students want an “A”, but they don’t want to read, think, write, and reflect. Some parents want their children to be college-ready, but they don’t want them to struggle and fail for a time to achieve academic success. Some want healthcare, but they don’t want to pay for it. Some want to alleviate poverty, but they don’t want the poor to experience sacrifice in order to obtain prosperity. Some want stability, order, and respect, but they hate morality and seek to redefine everything. Some want a chiseled body and good health, but they are unwilling to make healthy choices or exercise.
I am not judging any of the people mentioned above, but it is ridiculous to want something, refuse to put in the hard work required, and then blame others for your misery. This is not the natural way of things.
To reap a full harvest of corn, the farmer must cultivate the soil, plant the seeds, fertilize, water, and wait. The farmer must endure pestilence, irregular weather, and long days of toil. For a while, there are not even any plants visible. It looks as if the old sod-buster is crazy to spend so much when so little evidence of success is apparent. Regardless, he must persevere through short term sacrifice for a long term reward. If his investors stopped by a week after planting and demanded loan repayment because no results were visible yet, the leather-skinned old timer would never be able to do his part to supply food to consumers.
The athlete must continually push herself beyond her ability. She must lift heavy, run those last few excruciating sprints, and reject her cravings for the delicious ice cream sirens calling her name. It is actually through this most intense pain and sacrifice that she grows the most. If a psychiatrist were to observe this illogical behavior and commit the female competitor for her “self-harm”, we would have fewer Olympians and even more obesity.
The student must dive off into the messiness of learning. They must make errors on math problems, experience the awkwardness of writing a new type of essay, and reflect on flawed scientific hypotheses in order to learn from these failures, adapt, and try again. This might mean a failing grade for a few weeks, a few months, or even a few school years. It would almost certainly lead the student to initially dislike the courses that were most difficult, but if the parents and teachers partner together, the student can be empowered to learn through discomfort and setbacks, instead of being enabled to grow stagnant and bored. If the parents swoop in and “protect” their child from difficulty and struggle, the student will never develop grit, tenacity, or resilience.
The poor person must make short-term sacrifices in order to obtain long-term prosperity. Some have already achieved this. Some are currently in the midst of this process. Some are unwilling to change behaviors and make better decisions in order to dig themselves out of a hole. The latter (and politicians that purportedly advocate for them) are quick to blame others, call for increased government spending on social welfare programs, and demand that that those who have obtained prosperity must foot the bill. However, many of those in poverty are slow to stop buying cigarettes, alcohol, cable, smart phones, and other luxuries for a time to save money and get a certification or education that would bring them long term income security.
The Disadvantage Is Real
There is no doubt that much oppression, greed, racism, and the like has caused a lot of poverty in our country. Some start out in life at a significant disadvantage to others (as I know from my own experience), but the best solution to poverty is not government-enforced redistribution of wealth. It still holds true that if an impoverished American wants to succeed in this country, he/she has the opportunity to do so. There are scholarships, grants, loans, and other means to pay for education, but if a person is unwilling to change their behavior and exercise wisdom, no amount of money will liberate them from poverty. If a society incintivizes poor choices and penalizes good choices, it will cease to exist as a viable and just place for a free people to live. The path to economic security for those in poverty is a tough one, but preventing people from struggling through trials to earn their success is robbing them of dignity, self-respect, and resilience.
It is fine if people want to practice a lower-class lifestyle as long as they are okay with a lower-class standard of living. I know some people who are happy as clams living with very little, and I respect their choice. What bothers me is that many others want to keep the cultural practices of the lower class, but experience the benefits of the middle class. The only way to make this work is to take from those who have earned money and redistribute it to those who have not. If you are living in poverty right now, but you are busting your tail to get ahead, saving every penny you can, cutting out unnecessary luxuries, and working towards a plan that will ensure long-term success and fulfillment, then keep on keeping on. This post is not directed at you. I was once in your shoes, and my current lifestyle is all the more sweeter because with the assistance available to all Americans, I earned what I have now.
When Helping Hurts
This rant is directed towards those who are currently living in poverty, receiving government benefits, limiting work hours in order to keep benefits, buying cigarettes, alcohol, and/or drugs while paying for cable, satellite, or the newest phone. Before you criticize me for making exaggerated claims, please know that I have seen people do this. Some are my very own family members. While not all of those in poverty fit this description, it is important to realize that some do. My frustration is also directed towards the condescending politicians who have never experienced poverty, but think they know how to best eradicate it. While living in Uganda and experiencing severe poverty on a daily basis, I read When Helping Hurts. It explained clearly what I felt instinctively about efforts to alleviate poverty. According to the authors, there are three different responses to poverty depending on the specific situation. These are relief, rehabilitation, and development. Whenever possible, the impoverished person should play an active role in obtaining economic stability and prosperity. The key point made is that sometimes intervening in the personal struggles of a person, or intervening for too long, is far more harmful to the person than it is helpful. My own personal experience growing up in poverty, and my time in Sub-Saharan Africa both reinforced the main arguments detailed in this book.
The common thread here is that as a country, I fear that we are obsessed with preventing difficulty, struggle, pain, failure, discomfort, and sacrifice, yet these are the very things that have made our country thrive. To insulate humans from the realities of life is to fundamentally alter the authenticity of living. Sure, let us do our best to prevent and eliminate needless obstacles and toil. Let us exercise empathy, love, and kindness, but not remove accountability, wisdom, or common sense in the process. Let us also help people to persevere through struggles, not prevent the struggles themselves. Some will have to run harder and longer than others to achieve economic prosperity, but won’t they be better off for that? In The American Crisis, Thomas Paine wrote, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” It is the very act of achieving one’s goals despite setbacks, hindrances, barriers, and struggles that makes the achievement so meaningful. If this is true, then you should pity those with privilege instead of being envious. The real advantage is striving and struggling for what you earn because strength only comes to those who’s strategy is to stay standing through stress and strain.