We’ve all heard the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” It comes up any time we talk about the best ways to help the poor. Let’s add some new dimentions to the basic problem. What if the man is blind. Do you give him the fish? I fished once in my life and didn’t particularly enjoy it, but it seems to me there are no major obstacles to a blind man fishing. As long as he learns a safe way to bate the hook and has a safe plase to cast from he should be able to fish. What if a man has no arms? Do you give him the fish, or can he find a way to fish with his feet? It seems unlikely to me but if it can be done people like this guy would figure it out. What if he has no legs either? We’re running out of options, but thiss fellow might have some ideas.
My point is this. Though there are many programs out there aimed at helping people with disabilities find work, there is still a prevailing assumption that disability is…well…disabling. It would be ludicrous to say that there is no point at which a person is too handicapped to do any productive work, but I wonder Whether if we tried we might find even a little something to help many of them find a meaningful application for whatever ability they retain.
Why should it be that i, being reasonably intelligent and capable, could in the absence of income from my job apply for and receive public assistance for life just because I am blind? People rightly object to perfectly able-bodied individuals living off the backs of those who earn a living. I would be no different than they. I have been an SSI recipient. SSI is a form of social security available to those with disabilities and no other source of income. Though at the time I was on it there was a program in place to help someone wanting to work, the easy path would have been simply to take the check and any other public assistance available to me and spend my days as a loaf. It’s the worst form of self-perpetuating wellfaire. That’s not the way I was raised. I took it as a hand up, not a hand out.
Nevertheless, it still embarrasses me that I took it at all. I consoled myself with the facts that I would give it all back in short order after entering the workforce and that my family would have had it to share with me if the government hadn’t taken it from them in taxes. Simply handing out money and benefits without any expectation is destructive whomever the object of such generosity may be. Taking it away from someone else to do so is nothing but glorified theft.
I do not suggest that all such programs be immediately abolished. We need to find a compassionate way to gradually shift away from government sponsorship to agencies that will demand accountability and produce long-term positive results. The government needs to get out of the picture entirely, it has no constitutional authority to be there. Better heads than mine are needed to come up wiht details, but we all know we cannot afford to keep going the way we are.
Finally, societal attitudes need to change, and this is the hardest part. I don’t believe any human agency is capable of affecting that kind of change. We consider ourselves a compassionate people, but only so long as we don’t have to show it in person. Let the government do that. The problem is that the government can’t. It was never meant to. We are meant to do that individuals. We’ve now raised generations of people who look to government instead of God and who believe they have a right to anything they want. If we can’t change this our nation is doomed. We can’t, but God can, if we will turn to Him. This is why our churches need to be involved first in preaching the Gospel and second in practical ways of meeting needs that result in improvement and dignity for those we help.
The question we need to be asking is “what can you do?” We can start from there. People will always need our help. I will always need help in some areas. So will you for that matter, whether you face any kind of disability or not. The objective should be to build from the inside out. Allow each person to contribute whatever they are able. We have people in our church who can do little more than offer a smile, but that is not without worth. They cannot make themselves understood by those around them, but God can understand them perfectly and they can pray. I still don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I know that ideas like that form the foundation of what Linda and I are trying to accomplish. We want everyone to learn to fish, or to help in whatever way they are able.