Friday, January 17, 2014

Becoming more Blessed

Several years ago, I was invited to write an article for the HelpingHelp Innovation for Nonprofits blog. I chose to discuss the negative connections between poverty and charity, one of the many issues that inspired the essays collected in my book, The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace.

Conservatives are trying harder than ever before to eliminate government programs that help poor people. They claim it would be more acceptable if those services were managed by charities. That’s the reason I must explain one more time why both government and charities must take more effective approaches to the problem of poverty in our society. Here, then, is my article which was originally posted on March 17, 2010:


Most people know the quote from the Bible. It would be a "red letter" statement attributed to Jesus, except it’s in the book of Acts, chapter 20, verse 35: " . . . remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." (KJV)

You could say there’s an entire industry built around the concept of people being "more blessed." It’s called "charity," which is a synonym for "love." That’s good, of course, but what about the recipients? Are those who receive less "blessed" than those who give to others?

In a perfect world, people who receive would be able to return the favor, if not directly to those who give to them, at least to someone else in turn. Thus, society would be in balance. But that’s not how things are in the real world.

In fact, society almost guarantees an entire class of people are doomed to be among the less blessed. Billions of people spend their lives wanting for the basic goods and services we "blessed" people take for granted: nourishing food, clean water, safe and sheltering homes, and much more.

Does it have to be like that? Can something be done about it? If so, what?

Consider what happens in the event of an extraordinary catastrophe, such as a hurricane or an earthquake. The authorities declare an emergency, and public and private organizations are mobilized. This process allows millions of people to pitch in and help victims of the disaster.

In such cases, there are givers and receivers. But the situation, though dire, is usually temporary. The goal is to bring life back to normal for the receivers, so they can once again become givers in their turn. That’s how the social balance is maintained.

But what of the ultimate emergency: poverty? To those in the lowest economic strata, life is an eternal emergency. They are in constant need of help, not merely to make it through a day or a defined period of time, but for their entire lives. They are chronic receivers, the incurably less blessed.

My essays in The World I Imagine
detail a comprehensive plan for
ending poverty and war by
building a society in which
everyone enjoys some measure
of prosperity and peace.

Fortunately, many organizations help the more blessed give to those in need. They provide food, medical services, water, shelter--the basics. But as much as they help people survive, such bequests rarely offer long-term improvement for the people they help. Poverty is a virtual inferno that destroys everything in its path. For all their good intentions, these givers are like firefighters trying to stop a massive wildfire with small buckets of water.

The solution to this endless catastrophe must be to build a system that is, if not fireproof, at least fire-resistant. In the face of poverty, we must become proactive instead of merely reactive. There is an old saying: "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." This is wise counsel.

But what if we sit with the man at the riverbank until he is adept at snagging the biggest fish, then declare him ready, stand up, take back our fishing poles, tackle, bait, all the tools he needs to catch more fish to feed his family and more--and carry these tools away with us? What good does that new education do for the man and his family then?

Education is only the first step. After that, people need jobs and tools so they can perform honest labor and earn enough to purchase the basic goods and services. Then they will be able to enjoy a dignified existence.
Charitable organizations work best when they offer this kind of parity between giving and receiving. Besides providing the basic goods and services, they can teach and provide recipients with the means to work and earn money. One of the best organizations of this kind is Heifer International.

Instead of simply feeding hungry people, the charity provides an animal, usually a cow or a goat, to a family that will breed it and return several animals as repayment for the loan. Then those animals are given to other families, and the blessings are spread far and wide. In the end, recipients end up with small herds that not only feed their own families but help bring prosperity to their villages.

Microloans are another tool that help poor people, especially women, raise themselves, their families, and their villages out of poverty. With a small amount of money, they learn to build successful businesses while they repay the loans at a small rate of interest.

Givers to these types of charities are helping to raise the status of the less blessed so that poor people can eventually become givers themselves. This is the best kind of giving. This is truly the way for each of us to become more blessed.

The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace and my historical mystery novel, Lion’s Pride, are available through your local bookstore. They are featured at, Barnes & Noble, and most online bookstores around the world. Both are available for Kindle readers.

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