Saturday, November 17, 2012

Makers and Takers

I recently visited a cousin and her family whom I admire very much.  We don't see one another often and it's always a pleasure as we discuss philosophies and issues.  Something she said this last time has really resonated with me.  She and her husband have been very successful yet they live very modestly.  In speaking of their success and choosing a more humble lifestyle she said, "Yes, we have done very well.  We worked hard but we also recognize that we were very lucky."
I would call them context driven.  They are very aware of their place in a much larger world and a longer time span.  They have not grown egocentric with success.
When they consider the struggles of others, they begin with the perspective "There but for the Grace of God, go I,"  rather than, "If they worked hard like I did, they wouldn't be there."
Anyone I know who has been successful can name people who encouraged, mentored and supported them along the way.  People don't succeed in a bubble - all on their own without any outside support.
Being in a country that tries to nurture success through a variety of public efforts is a huge part of the equation.  Those public efforts have evolved over time.
Our public education system is, to me,  the most important and significant of all of our country's public efforts. 
"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the
whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not
 be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded
by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the
people themselves."  John Adams, 1785
John Adam's vision did not become a reality until long after he was gone.  Widespread access to 12 years of public education did not become standard until the early 1900's.  Today we accept the mandate to educate our children - that they must attend some form of education program for a certain period of time.
An educated population is one cornerstone of a healthy society - a healthy economy - and the best hope for spring boarding personal success.  If you want fewer "takers" in our nation - invest in good education and community programs that include mentoring.  People need to understand what it takes to succeed and they need to develop the skills required to succeed.  Most important; they need someone to tell them that they can. 
I refuse to believe that anyone wants to be poor.
Our schools are only one part of the equation.
Young people typically don't understand long term paths.  It's especially difficult for children of poverty to understand a path different from their family.  Their parents will naturally teach them - by example - the methods they have used to survive.  They may have a greater level of expectation for themselves but someone has to show them how.
Some years ago I had taken a young man in as his family thought he needed to get away from the community of friends that were taking him down a wrong road.  And their family was struggling to keep afloat.  At 15, he was certain he knew a lot about life.  While he was living with me, I got a new job that was a great step for me - career wise and financially.  He said, "Wow, you really fell into that one."  His eyes glared over as I explained how the company perceived that I matched their needs because of my military experience, four year degree, and a good work history that related to my career path.  It was all outside of his family experience and he did not know me through those times.  It was as though I was talking a foreign language.
People living in poverty or on the edge of poverty know the language of poverty.  You can call them whatever you like.  You can pull the rug out from under them by slashing "taker" programs.  I believe there will be some very undesirable outcomes to that.  Desperate people do desperate things.  Some untreated diseases spread just as easily between poor and wealthy people.   But if you really want to do something - become a mentor for some young people.  If you see yourself as successful and a shining example of what people should do - then become a shining example and help people understand a path to a better way.  That requires an on-going personal commitment and personal relationships that won't work if you consider the individuals unworthy.
MAKE a better society don't just TAKE for yourself.

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