Send your questions directly to him with "Ask Fred".
- Latest Posts
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
I posted an article on the shrinking of the middle class as an increasing number of people are falling into the category of low-income. "Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans – nearly 1 in 2 – have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income." While I did not say much about the article, I did say, "Is it un-Christian of me to doubt these numbers?" A Facebook friend responded to me with a private message to voice his disagreement with my obvious bias. Out of that has come an interesting exchange from our different – but not opposite – perspectives. Mine is from years of frustrating experience with bureaucracies and their penchant for reclassifying data (and people) to fit their political purposes. If you want to increase government funded programs then you make the problem worse than it is.
His perspective is well reflected in what he wrote:
"It may be helpful to share a little of my experience and perspective. I have lived for over 30 years on the edge of an African American ghetto,Woodlawn,just south of the University of Chicago. I watched as buildings continued to be ruined by landlords who paid no taxes, but sucked out all the rent they could before Chicago closed down what was little more than a shell - first abandoned, often burned, eventually torn down. I have watched as local families and children struggled to "make it" and local organizations develop strategies to deal with rapacious landlords and dramatic loss of jobs on the south side. I too have become suspicious of lots of explanations, but I am very weary of a lot of current explanations that make the poor the cause of their own problems. It was not true in Swaziland, Africa, where I was a school teacher for 6 years. And it seems to me it is not true in the US either."
Our conversation reminded me of an essay I read years ago by Suzanne Roberts on the relationship between poverty and the Church from the earliest Christian community to the 19th century. It is the process she calls the "secularization of charity" and it is occurs in six stages:
First, the majority of Christians were poor and shared what they had.
Second, the Church glorified the poor and those who chose poverty.
Third, the Church cared for the poor and included them in the community.
Fourth, the Church and society began to discriminate between the deserving and undeserving poor.
Fifth, the Church and society began to treat the poor as dangerous and poverty as a curse.
Sixth, the Church and society came to see poverty and the poor as a problem to be fixed by a new form of charity that would be more objective and efficient. We must eliminate poverty altogether.
From my perspective it is that sixth stage which is the most dangerous to the poor themselves. They are a "problem" to be fixed and if they cannot or will not be fixed we must find ways to create large scale programs that will be a solution to the problem. Obviously, it is not either/or but both/and. The issues of poverty are far too complex for a simplistic answer. The rub is finding the right relationship and spheres of influence among the players – public and private.Comments
The Boston Globe article "Why we give" I wrote about in the previous blog made me curious about Deborah Small at the Wharton School. It turns out she has done quite a bit of research on charity and why people give...or don't. One of her papers is titled "The Face of Need: Facial Emotion Expression on Charity Advertisements. Maybe it's just me but I found the results of discussion fascinating. Did you know:
Pictures showing sad faces are far more capable of producing similar states of sympathetic sadness than pictures of happy faces can create happiness on the part of the viewer. A phenomenon known as "emotion contagion" occurs when people pick up on cues from a picture and it produces the same emotion in the viewer as the person portrayed in the photograph. Sadness has high "emotion contagion" value but happiness does not. In other words, it is far easier to "catch" sadness. "Sadness contagion facilitates sympathy because the observer shares the victim's pain, but happiness contagion fails to connect the observer to the victim's negative state.
Pictures that are accompanied by detail about the person or the situation or the cause are far less effective because "such information about the charity or victim might then engage a more deliberate mind-set, overriding the emotional response." Engaging the intellect diminishes the effect of the emotion. "This is not to say that information cannot induce a sympathy but rather that it dilutes or even overrides the impact of emotional contagion."
A picture can actually be "too sad" and diminish the emotional effect. " ...sadness may work only to the extent that people feel that a donation can alleviate the sadness of the child. An intensely sad advertisement might evoke a feeling of helplessness. Furthermore, intense sadness is associated with a ruminative cognitive style, in which people become self-focused and have trouble relating to others. If an advertisement evokes such a state, it might actually reduce giving. Moreover, an intense sad expression might appear phony and posed to viewers, thus potentially causing reluctance. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between the subtle sadness induced by a mild facial emotion expression and more intense sadness, which would likely result from a combination of facial expression and other bleak or graphic ad features."
So...while it may be the season to be jolly just know that jolliness is not catching but sadness – not too much though – is. I'm going to swim upstream on this one.Comments