A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.

3 Feb

“Well, you know she doesn’t NEED it. She’s just too lazy to work.”

“You’ve seen what they drive. Welfare. Pfft. As if.”

“They dress better than us. How dare they be on any sort of assistance.”

“Why should the soup wagon stop there. They look fine to me.”

“I’ve worked around people like that. They’re just ripping us off-those are my tax dollars!”


We’ve heard it all. Maybe we’ve even said these things, or worse. I know I have, in moments of frustration with life that must be someone else’s fault.

How dare the poor have anything. How dare they be poor and ask for anything more than the bare minimum. How dare they consider themselves full members of my society! They don’t work! They’re lazy! They’re dealing drugs! They can’t keep care of their homes, they abuse what we give them.

What we give them.

“These” people work jobs we won’t because they pay to little to life. They feed us, clean up after us, watch our children. We’ve set market prices, what we will pay, which dictates what they are paid. You love that cheap childcare? Those cheap jeans?

Actions have consequences.

They might be ill. Might have an addiction, an injury. Like your mother, your brother or cousin. But it’s different for them, right? They had money saved or family to look after them. They aren’t mooching. They aren’t living off our backs now are they? Not like those poor people, ripping off the system. How dare they be sick! How dare they be human!

We call ourselves kind. We drop a bag into the food box bin at Christmas, but we scorn those who might actually need to use it. We feel virtuous dropping clothing off to a homeless shelter, yet see no irony in accusing people on welfare of being lazy.

Maybe it’s because I can see myself there, easily. Because I can visualize the steps that would put me in one of those houses, apartments. I can see how little it would take for me to become “one of them”.

How limiting and repulsive our language is, as if we’re talking about something we just stepped in. “Those people”, as if they’re lepers.

Some of the kindest and best people I have ever known have been on assistance. They shared what they had, would go out of their way to do what they could for me. They were the farthest thing from lazy I’ve ever seen-watching some families stretch nothing to feed themselves for a month-I couldn’t fathom it. Watching the disgust on the faces of others if that family managed to scrounge up enough to eat out once every 2 months or so. That was a lesson.

Most people don’t want to help. They don’t want the poor to become settled, find their footing and perhaps heal a bit, find their way. It’s easier to have someone “worse off”. It’s easier to sit in one’s 400,000 home and laugh at those with less, accuse them of cheating because their car is too nice. They could never have won it, inherited it, be gifted with that which you take for granted, mobility. How dare they have something nice?

I’m learning my lessons lately about the assumptions I make based on where people live, how they live, what they wear. Do I still understand why someone not working needs to drive their child 2 blocks to school? No, I don’t. But I don’t understand the parents who stay home with their children who don’t walk either. And I’m trying to better understand both.

But when I see accusations, and superior attitudes in environments which are, relatively blessed with health and food and money and clothing not on the 3.00 rack at Walmart, I almost can’t stand it. We’re all the same people! Those poor people you think are criminals-they could be you tomorrow! How many of us are 1, or 3 paychecks away from poverty? A lot more than we might think.

We are not so mighty that we can’t fall to the ground with a resounding thud.

Stuff like this-it’s why I can’t find grace in small things, or see the silver lining. Because we still live in a world where helping your fellow man, where compassion and mercy and TRUE grace, where these things are figments, trotted out only when it’s popular or deemed appropriate.

Rich or poor, we all cry the same exact tears.


16 Responses to “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

  1. crazymumma February 3, 2009 at 11:10 am #

    It is so difficult to learn how to not judge.

    I have found myself recently trying so hard not to judge others for what hey have. As opposed to not have. And I have much. That is the irony. But i am not particularily happy.

    I have envy issues I think.

  2. Molly February 3, 2009 at 11:11 am #

    I used to work as Assistant Director of communications and organizational development for a housing counseling non-profit. As the mortgage crisis in the US began to develop, I pointed out to the CEO one day that almost everyone is one paycheck away from being homeless.

    Here in the D.C. area, there isn’t really a middle class–just the poor and the rich. And the line is so blurry. The poor here are driving BMWs and living in huge mansions–but then you find out that there’s five or six families all living there together just so they can pay the mortgage, and they can’t afford furniture or food. My husband and I try to live like we’re poor, we drive an 8-year-old car, we don’t have a lot of luxuries, and I still worry. Worry is practically my middle name.

    I try to subscribe to a there-but-for-the-grace-of-whomever-go-I school of thought. We try to make mindful choices, but we are concerned by the fact that so many of our problems are first-world problems. It makes that mindfulness harder.

  3. Green February 3, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    When I was 14 and working at a supermarket, all the cashiers knew that if a black person got in our line, there was more than a 50% chance they’d be paying with food stamps (it was a very white town, surrounded by other upper-middle class white towns). There was something I didn’t understand about it though, and went home and asked my mother why, if they were so poor they needed food stamps, were they wearing Sergio Tacchini track suits, which were so expensive I wasn’t allowed to have one myself. My mother thought for a second and then asked if when my dad got laid off, if I suddenly no longer had the two gold bracelets I’d gotten as presents for my 13th birthday. It was a good point.

    These days what I hear people say is, “If someone gifts you a nice car, you should trade it in and buy a less expensive car.” So I guess those people in my checkout line were supposed to sell their clothes and buy cheaper clothes and then use the leftover money for food. People have faulted me for stocking up on spaghetti sauce when it’s on sale, saying I should be making it at home instead.

    I’ve been out of work over a year, and don’t go out to eat unless someone offers to take me. Because I don’t feel like I have the right (or, let’s be honest, the money).

  4. EJ February 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    Interesting that you differentiate between:
    Do I still understand why someone not working needs to drive their child 2 blocks to school? No, I don’t. But I don’t understand the parents who stay home with their children who don’t walk either.

    Not working and staying home look pretty much the same to me.

  5. Ameroux February 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    This is excellent. Amen.

  6. de February 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    The idea that wealth equates to goodness is pervasive in American culture, twisting the basis for our judgments about others from their principles to their privileges. It’s so vexatious when the poor won’t make it easy to identify them by looking the part.

  7. missprissdoesablog February 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    Yes, isn’t it amazing that we live in a silent caste system that no one is really willing to address? It’s complete hypocrisy. I enjoyed reading your view on it.

  8. Bon February 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm #

    the part i’ve never understood is why people get so het up about the relatively scanty sums of money involved in assistance. yes, angry sir or madam, your taxes do pay person x approximately $700-900 a month. you live on that, and tell me whether you wouldn’t prefer a decent job if you could get one.

    yes, there’s abuse. it is largely a matter of middle-class values not being universal…and our society encourages conspicuous consumption all across the economic spectrum, which can be particularly tough to swallow for those of us who like to think we’re above that crass shit (we’re not, we just buy more “tasteful” stuff). but there’s far greater abuse of the public coffers at the corporate level, and yet the outrage and sanctimony at THAT don’t come from the same corners.

  9. March February 3, 2009 at 5:10 pm #

    unfortunately it’s human nature to make assumptions the moment you make contact with someone. you assume those kids that mom is walking with through the store are hers, if the children don’t have the same skin color you assume they are adopted, if the children are not having a good day you assume that she’s a bad mother, if the chilren are well behaved you assume she’s a “good” mother, if you see a ring on her finger then she’s a good mother cause she’s married, if you don’t see a ring you assume she’s a single mom cause she screwed up.

    and the same applies to everyone else you meet, color, race, clothing, cars. human nature finds some sort of peace in “assumptions”.

    we’re all at fault, we’re all targets.

    we see it so often in our life, where everyone knows how much everyone is making (the pay charts are for everyone to see and believe me you certainly know everyone’s rank) and thus people assume your situation based on that, and it’s annoying on so many levels and it’s funny on so many others.

    it’s actually an exercise in humbleness to stop ourselves from making those assumptions… just because I see a mom at the store at 10am does not mean that she does not have a job, she jsut may be working odd shifts, working from home or be self employed so she can choose her hours. Just because you use the WICO or welfare checks does not mean you’re below anyone and does not mean people should feel sorry for you. just because you’re “well-dressed” (what ever that really means) doesn’t mean you are swimming in money.

    it’s definetely something we should be careful with. and certainly we should stop ourselves from saying anything until you have a bigger picture… and even when you have that bigger picture you should be careful of any judgement you pass as it’ll come back to you one way or another.

    such thought provoking post…

  10. thordora February 3, 2009 at 5:33 pm #

    I’m trying, and it’s hard. My mother was NASTY when it came to judging others, and I find myself doing the same but I don’t want to. But there is a knee jerk judgement, especially when it comes to welfare, and I don’t know if I’m feeling it more now knowing that soon, I WON’T be able to spend as much stupidly…or because I fear this happening…I don’t know.

    And you’re right Bon-we ALL waste on “crap” be it Ikea or Zellers. We just feel superior if it’s got a new name on it.

    I was on student welfare for awhile as a teenager. For the most part I was too high to care, but I didn’t tell anyone about it, and it barely paid by room and board with a little left over. The only good thing was the medical coverage, or I would have never gotten over strep throat that year. I hated interacting with the people who had control over my money-it was a horrible feeling-I can only imagine it as an adult-the helplessness, and the implication that you should grovel.

    Life is hard enough.

  11. thordora February 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    And March, aren’t you all busy dying of the plague before moving? (To Italy I am so JEALOUS! and I owe you an email-I’m not ignoring you I swear. 😛 )

  12. Cynthia Page February 3, 2009 at 6:42 pm #

    In NB, a single “employable” person (whatever criteria they use for that) can get $267 a month.

    A person with a disability on average receives $564 per month, and the average for a single parent with one child is $738.

    They are not permitted to have roommates in order to share expenses, and if it is discovered that someone does live with them, they could lose their benefits altogether. Money from other sources can be clawed back. It is amazing to me that people manage to survive on that, even with food banks.

    It is none of my business where other people get their money or how they spend it. People make negative assumptions about all people on assistance based on a couple examples – what they fail to take into account is that there are assholes in every economic class.

    I have been very fortunate to have family step in to help us in times of crisis. A lot of people aren’t so lucky. I would never begrudge them the (very) few dollars they may receive from the government.

  13. summer February 3, 2009 at 11:38 pm #

    I am one of those people. I live in a subsidized building and receive medical coupons for my kids. I choose to be uncovered myself and not to get on food stamps because we have generous family who help and I have no desire to abuse the system. My husband is well educated and works two jobs that are not in his field and is on year 3 of continuing to hunt. I stay home and raise my kids both because I love it and would desire to be anywhere else and also because we could not afford to have them both in day care even if I worked full time. Living in this subsidized building has opened my eyes to the stereo types that are so frequently made. Some are painfully true but most are not. We are the working poor, trying desperately to give our families the best we can. And I know I for one appreciate it when I can just have a conversation with someone who does not assume upon observation of my living situation that I am just another leech on the system.

    Thanks for posting on this…too many people seem to forget that we are all in this together.

  14. March February 4, 2009 at 2:24 am #

    shut up about catching the plague 🙂
    my kids are horribly sick, fever and all… we had such a fun day at the airport today. I have not caught anything yet, I’m hoping I won’t. at least till we get to Sicily, I can get sick once I have a house :p

  15. Richard W June 4, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    This quote often is taken out of context. Its not about money at all. Many assume….but that is not the case.
    ITs about freedom.

    “We must be ready to dare all for our country. For history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid. We must acquire proficiency in defense and display stamina in purpose.
    We must be willing, individually and as a Nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
    These basic precepts are not lofty abstractions, far removed from matters of daily living. They are laws of spiritual strength that generate and define our material strength. Patriotism means equipped forces and a prepared citizenry. Moral stamina means more energy and more productivity, on the farm and in the factory. Love of liberty means the guarding of every resource that makes freedom possible—from the sanctity of our families and the wealth of our soil to the genius of our scientists.”

  16. Sectional Garage · November 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    i use both gold and silver bracelets because for me, they are both great bracelets to wear ;-`

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