Tossing Bottles at the Wall

Posted on December 7, 2013

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bottlesConcerning Welfare and Welfare Bums

You talk about people on welfare and immediately you have a chorus of other people explaining how they (or sometimes their parents) avoided it because of some sense of pride and enterprise which made them (implicitly) above welfare

I was too good for that.

I was taught better than that.

Well, goody for you, Herman, I think.  Goody for you, Harriet.

But didn’t you know? say the facts, butting into the conversation, that most of the people on welfare are single mothers and children?

Oh, we didn’t mean them, say the people too good for welfare.  Oh, don’t get us wrong.  We weren’t meaning to put anyone on welfare down.

No, of course not.  You were just saying you were too clever or enterprising or principled to ever require welfare.

Unlike people on welfare.

Anyway, who we really were talking about, the explainers dither and hasten to say, were welfare bums, right?  The people who are too lazy to work.  So lazy that they prefer to squeeze by every month, month after month, eating sandwiches handed out in food lines, wearing shabby clothes, skipping occasional laundry days to save quarters, growing a beard to save razors, abiding in low rent overpriced rooms, with cockroaches and bedbugs and mad-eyed druggies for neighbours.

Those ones.

Oh, we’re not talking about the damaged people, then.  The ones without a choice.  We’re not talking about that guy who lost his family in a house fire nine years ago and has drifted ever since.  Or the middle school drop-out who long-ago regretted it.  Or the old fisherman elbowed out of the industry.  Or the old roofer, too old to go roofing, too young to collect a pension.  We’re not talking about the foster kid fresh out of the system (and 14 foster homes) dumped on the street after aging out, without a family, without skills, without an education, without peace of mind.  We’re not talking about the gay kid rejected by his parents who grew up on the street.

Oh, no, not them.  We’re not talking about them.

And what about the poor schleps with no social skills, with zero ability to get or hang onto a job?  What about the people with depression?  What about the people with untreated mental illnesses?

Oh no, not them.

What about people without pride, skill or enterprise?  The world produces such people.  It doesn’t make sense to feel superior to them.  Most of them didn’t have any more choice in becoming who they are than any of us did in choosing our parents.

And face it, a lot of us do very well in life for no other reason than that we had the right parents.  Who sometimes had the right colour of skin.

–Well, let’s not get into that discussion, please.

–Okay, okay.  I know it makes some of us uncomfortable to be reminded that we didn’t all earn our privileges.

Yes, we can congratulate ourselves as much as we please, but the raw fact is that some people break with what life throws at them.  Some people don’t.  And some people don’t break because life has thrown nothing at them at all except the heartbreak of mediocrity.

Because life isn’t really like a Horatio Alger novel.  Your bootstraps will not help you defy gravity.

Let’s try an experiment and lob some beer bottles at the wall.  Gently now.  Some hit the wall higher, fall further and harder.  And break.  Some hit low but at a peculiar angle.  And break.  Some break because they are fragile.  Some don’t break at all.

Now stand back after you’re done lobbing bottles and blame the ones that shattered.

Shame, shame.  Point a finger and rub a little shame along it in their direction.  Shame on you bottles for breaking.

Or step back a little further and consider that no bottle would have broken at all if you hadn’t thrown them at the wall.

So, shall we blame the bottles?  Shall we make up a lesson and teach the unbroken bottles to boast and feel superior to the broken ones?  Shall we make up a little cutting, self-satisfied phrase and apply it to the bottles that shattered?

What I mean is, shall we blame the people on welfare?  Shall we call them bums?  Shall we all dig in our pockets and toss nickels on the sidewalk just to see them scrape and bow?

But nobody ever got up for being put down.

In spite of it, sometimes.

Because of it, never.

Poverty just means that there’s work to be done.  None of that work is helped by blaming the poor.  None of that work is helped by inventing the notion of the welfare bum and tossing insults at it.  We’re talking about people who are not of our imagination, who are real people with real stories whose only crime is needing our help.  Whose only crime is being tossed to the wall.  Whose only crime is being the victim of our indifference and our alibis.

Those people.

The real people.

So let’s stopping blaming the bottles.  They didn’t elect to be broken.  They didn’t toss themselves at the wall.