It's Thanksgiving today. I am grateful that I have my health, my darling husband, my beloved kids, my wonderful friends who are like family to me. I am grateful that I will be eating a meal today with our big, fine family, and that there will be more than enough food for everyone. I am grateful that I have a roof over my head; a warm, safe place to sleep. I have a job; I have clean clothes. And it doesn't matter to 'whom' I am grateful - or if indeed it is 'anyone' at all; I am just grateful - counting my blessings makes me appreciate what I do have and keeps me from being unsatisfied because of what I don't have. It's an exercise in mental health for me.
Many of us are doing 'charitable' things on this day; gratitude for me - and for many others - involves giving to those who do not have these things that I include in my gratitude list. There are people that believe that government should not be in the business of helping those in need; that it should be taken care of through private charitable giving. Many of these same people, however, simultaneously feel that 'charity' should only go to people who meet their own specific criteria as to whether they are 'deserving' or not, and that the 'haves' ought to get to decide whether or not to help the 'have-nots'.
If you think deeper on this you will see that these particular 'haves' are acting as though they believe that the 'have-nots' are that way by choice. If this were indeed the case, then the 'haves' should have the right to choose whether or not they should offer their help. They pay lip service to the idea that the poor are deserving of help, but the reality is that they believe that 'laziness and poor choices' are the primary determining factors for poverty, and to help them is to reinforce and reward those factors by 'confiscating' from those who are not lazy and do not make poor choices. Those in need should be judged and punished by those who have more, or they will continue on their immoral path.
Yes, there are a small percentage of people who 'take advantage of the system', and even for those - is that such an enviable way of life, to receive the relatively small amount of assistance that public support entails? The ones to criticize are the ones who steal big; those people who really 'game the system' live in mansions and are lauded for their entrepreneurship. But most people (and more than ever in these difficult times) are in need due to no fault of their own, and it is our responsibility as a society to provide a safety net that includes help for a way out of poverty with dignity, not a punitive, finger-pointing, judgmental sort of 'charity' which is not charity at all but arrogance.
The difference is in the assumption that poverty is a choice. If indeed I choose not to work, not to take care of myself and my family, and you choose to work and are therefore successful, then you are indeed within your rights to decide whether or not to help me with your own resources, and to use your judgment to decide whether I am deserving of your charity. However, that is not very often the case - it is the exception, not the rule. You don't 'have' everything you have simply due to your own awesomeness, and as a society, we are better off as a whole if we help those who fall through the cracks. We help ourselves by helping the 'least of these', as the Prince of Peace knew very well.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends.