We talk charitably about social justice, often with the liberal view of defending the disenfranchised. Taken out of context we might be seen as classic do-gooders who only enable irresponsibility. That is the common refrain for shallow, heartless capitalists who do not realize that there is profit in assisting the impoverished.
Dr. Muhammad Yanus, an American trained economist from Bangladesh, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his thoughtful approach to ending poverty. His concept is to promote the poor with small business loans and to assist them with establishing business practices in a network of small businesses.
There are a few quotes by Dr. Yanus in the November 25, 2007, Parade Magazine. He is worth listening to. Parade asked questions, Dr. Yanus responded:
You have said that “charity” is a bad word. Why?
“Charity is not a solution. Give a homeless man money and he’ll eat for a day. But the next day, he’s back on the same track. We need a system where he can earn his own food. ”
What is the biggest obstacle for the poor?
“Society has made the poor believe they’re no good. But it’s the poor who work the hardest. They might work their pants of but get nothing.”
Why do you believe that people in poverty can become an economic powerhouse?
“Half of the globe subsists on $2 a day. Imagine if you could create an income for them – it they bought one pair of shoes a year or one shirt. You’d need 3 billion more shirts and shoes. Moe than that, we are wasting their talents and creative genius. We don’t even know what we’ve missed.”
So, Son, how do we define charity. To rescue someone from their own irresponsibility or to enable someone to continue being irresponsible is not charity. There is the problem – our society assumes that anyone who is poor, who is not ‘successful,’ or who is not educated is merely irresponsible. We assume the American system provides equal opportunity – if that is the case then it does logically follow that fault is to be placed on anyone who fails. Sadly, equality is an ideal, not a reality.
The American “Let the buyer beware” mantra has fostered a climate of paranoia. We inadvertently promote the idea that the other guy is trying to shaft us. Anyone who walks on a used car lot does so with skepticism. And rightly so.
Our culture needs a morality shift. A fundamental shift from “everyman for himself” to a more civilized notion of “we are all in the same boat.” Charity is not a bad word – but the word has taken on connotations of failure. Charity is bad when it promotes irresponsibility, it is good when it encourages and supports.