I have been reading an interesting book by Robert Lupton called, "Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life." In his book, Lupton has much to say about our responsibility to help people in need and more importantly the way we truly help people. He discourages well-intentioned welfare and says, "...welfare depletes self-esteem while honorable work produces dignity." The core thought is that if we do for others what they can do for themselves, we, in many cases unknowingly, make them the objects of our pity and deprive them of human dignity. Lupton expands this thought in saying, "A relationship founded on one's giving and the other's need never yields healthy outcomes."
Could it be that when we stop "handing out to" and "stepping in to save" the poor and needy, we give them the God ordained opportunity to take charge of their lives and situations in a way that gives dignity a chance? We do understand that poverty brings limitations especially in the area of capacity. However, poverty does not change the fact of responsibility and the need for the poor to own their situation and the determination to do something about it.
I believe that our desire to help others is given by God to all people, not just the "religious" or the good people. Some cultures, government systems, and societies do their best to suppress this desire or basically deny it. The key for me is "how" we act on this desire. Do we truly help in a way that builds people, communities and dignity or do we simply take the easy way and resort to dependency building handouts?
Lupton discusses four levels of charity in Hebrew wisdom. They are listed from the highest to the lowest and with the lowest to be avoided if at all possible.
1. The highest level is to provide a job for a person in need without him/her knowing that you provided it. In this way, you meet a need, preserve dignity, avoid dependency, and return the person in need to a working state as God intended.
2. The second level is to provide work that the needy one knows your provided. While helpful to the person, it falls short of the first level in that it brings attention and possible dependency issues to the provider.
3. The third level is to give an anonymous gift to meet an immediate need. This is a level below number two for the simple fact that it provides a gift but not the dignity of the person "earning" their way out of their problem.
4. The fourth and lowest level of charity, again to be used only as a last resort, is to give a poor person a gift with his/her full knowledge that you are the donor.
So, how do we help people in need without communicating to them that something is deficient in them and that something is superior in us? It is not an easy thing.
Charity with dignity...