That is what people do

I was re-watching a wonderful movie called “The Book Thief.” The story is about an adopted girl who survives in Poland post the invasion by Nazi Germany. She learns from her step-father (and step-mother) about treating others with kindness and humanity as they hide a Jewish friend in their basement and he speaks out in favor of a half-Jewish man who is being taken away by the soldiers. When she does something similar, her step-mother says “you are just like your father.” When she asks why is that so bad, she adds to her question, by saying “That is what people do.”

In our increasingly adversarial world where helping people becomes harder given the politicization of every issue, we sometimes lose sight of what people do. I often quote Gandhi who noted that a society’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of the least fortunate. In the Christian bible it is noted that “there but by the grace of God go I,” when describing the need to help those less fortunate. And, Jesus noted when you help people who have the least, you are honoring him.

When there is a tragedy, a flood, fire, hurricane, earthquake, mudslide,tornado or tsunami, we eagerly help people in need. Yet, today when people are in need because of generational poverty in areas where opportunities do not exist and hope is hard to find, we tend to define groups as less worthy. We seem to look to pat reasons why they are in poverty oftentimes blaming the victims of poverty more than we should or if at all. As I have noted, many of the poor I work with as a volunteer, have multiple jobs and work their fannies off.

We need to look rationally at the conditions that cause poverty and make sustainable efforts to remedy these conditions. This takes a longer level of commitment, as decades old problems can rarely be solved overnight. I ask that we look into our hearts as well as our heads to do what people do and help those in need. Help them find ways to climb ladders out of poverty. But, show the desire to help that we each have smoldering within us.

That is what people do. To do otherwise, is not very humanitarian.

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8 thoughts on “That is what people do

  1. I often note that the ‘white trash’ label is so unfair. If the poor had enough money to buy/build cabinets and shelves and had places to put things, there would be more order… You’re always so good to speak up for the poor. Thank you! Z

  2. The fact that there is widespread poverty in this country when the few have so much is one of the black eyes this country must admit to having. There are others — more than there are eyes!

  3. I’ve been in the company of those who love to put down the poor in order to make themselves feel big. Trying to get them to understand is like crawling through cement, but I trudge along.
    One thing that is not helping this issue is the disappearance of manual jobs. These self-serve cash registers, EZ pass or the threat of taking away gas attendants in NJ are examples on how we are creating another class of poor in this country.

    • Thanks Lisa. Agreed. This is one reason I have been pushing infrastructure investment, as there is a cascade of jobs needed to build and repair things. I just sent a note to our senators and congressman among others.

  4. Note to Readers: Please see the comment Lisa made from her WordPress site Life with the Top Down, an excellent blog by the way. We encounter people who say the darnedest things, some which are indicting of people based on the anecdotes of a few. Yes, there are people who take advantage of a help and yes there are people who use help to fund a substance abuse, but the data shows these are in a small minority. The significant majority need a helping hand and want to make it on their own.

    So, how do you respond? Many don’t and just change the subject as the speaker is not one who is predisposed to listen. Yet, if you have the chance, you could say something like, “I think that over-simplifies a complex problem. This is a decades old problem with many causes, so there are no silver bullets to solve it, in spite of what a politician or pundit might say .” That keeps it safe and makes them think.

  5. Note to Readers: We also saw another movie worth watching this weekend and that is “The Hundred Foot Journey” starring Helen Mirren. This is the story of a migrant Indian family who travels to a small town in France and establishes a restaurant across the street (100 feet away) from an elite, older establishment. It won’t give away the plot to know that a French woman helps the family out when their vehicle breaks down and offers them shelter and brings out a large plate of food – fresh vegetables, cheeses, fruits, breads, etc. To me this is very much in keeping with the theme, “that is what people do.”

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