Since I joined The Pursuit of Happiness, I’ve learned quite a bit about poverty; what drives it, what prevents it, and what helps people to escape it. I’ve written about quite a few things that I have come across, but I’ve also read many of the articles published elsewhere on the site, and that content has had a profound effect on me.
Before I started reading, I was already concerned about those in need around me. When driving around town, I would make sure to have a couple of $5 bills on me along with some of my church’s cards to give to someone if I happened to stop next to them.
I did this for quite some time, and whenever I gave one of these people some extra money, they’d be grateful for it. I’d also give them the church card, but haven’t seen any of them yet (though I maintain hope that any of these individuals will show up soon).
Whenever I did that, I felt good. But at the time I wasn’t thinking through things as deeply as I ought to have. I wasn’t so much concerned with that person's bigger picture as I was with the little section of that picture I could see from my driver’s seat.
But since participating in conversations and stories here, I’ve begun to change habits when I see someone on a street corner, and I hope it’s for the better.
My goal now is not so much to just give that person some money, but to ask him or her a deeper and more important question: do you have work and are you willing to work?
I ask because work is what truly enables people to escape poverty. If people are not willing to work, they are going to remain in their same position for the foreseeable future. I want better for them, and that’s why I mention it to them.
As Arthur Brooks discussed in a Google talk in 2017, part of the challenge in helping people escape poverty starts with ending contempt for the poor. We need to start needing them as people. They are "assets to be developed, not liabilities to be managed."
Work gives a person a sense of purpose. Without a sense of purpose, one will easily atrophy into apathy. We cannot allow our fellow man to fall into such condition, and I’m trying to do my part by conversing with these people more and asking them the important questions about their lives.
I had one of these conversations just the other day. I saw a man at a corner by the gas station I usually go to, and saw he had a sign that just said, “Please help.” After I fueled up, I went over and asked specifically what he needed help with. He told me what had happened to him over several months, how he got to this place.
I spoke with him for about 10 minutes, and asked him about if he wanted to work. He said several times over that he wants to work and is looking for more. When spring comes around, things should be picking up, he told me. I said I certainly hope so.
I gave him a few dollars and a church card, and even wrote down my phone number for him. If he wants to come to our church and get to know our church family, I really hope he takes me up on the offer.
It takes some initiative and courage to just walk up to a stranger and ask about his or her life situation, but that’s what we need to do more often to help improve people's situations. I hope that for this man, and for any others with whom I interact in the future, I can at least do a little bit to help them out; if anything, to lift their spirits and show that someone out there cares.