“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, December 28, 2012

Entering into the suffering of others

We are in the midst of the Christmas season.  To the Christian, Christmas is about God "emptying himself and taking the form of a servant" (as it says in Philippians 2).  To use human terms, Jesus as God was having this perfect existence as God.  But He saw the desperate condition of His creation and came to them to save them, to give them hope, to be with them as they are.  Once again as Philippians says, "He didn't think equality with God was a thing to be grasped" or held onto.  He left his perfect existence to help us who have no perfection.

I have been thinking about this idea a lot.  I know very little about suffering compared with probably most of the rest of the people in the world.  I have a perfect family, a perfect job, dear friends, have never known hunger or want.  Yet all around me are people who for a variety of reasons experience all forms of suffering.  If I am to follow the example of Christ, I will recognize that perhaps I am not experiencing suffering, at the moment, so that I can support and come alongside of those who are.  As my son has told me, he has wept over suffering, but not his own.  Rather it is the suffering of others that he has entered into.

Hurting people are a morass of difficulty sometimes.  If we try to dance around them with platitudes we may help a bit, but we will not know their suffering.  People's lives are often a mess, and you cannot help if you do not get messy yourself.  A homeless man that I know has often told me that I want to take "an arm's distance approach to helping" meaning that I am not willing to dive into the difficulty that is his life.  I am sure there is some truth to that.

1 Corinthians 12 talks about the body of Christ as a metaphor for the church.  It says if one part suffers the whole body suffers.  I don't think that is true.  Perhaps that is the way it is supposed to be but I don't see that being practiced to the degree it should be.  In order for me to suffer with you, I need to enter into your suffering in some significant way.  For you to suffer with others, you must enter into their suffering in some way.  I can't really tell you how to do that, for you, but you won't have to look to far to find hurting people whose lives are a mess.

Follow the Christmas message of Christ who although He was in the form of God did not hold onto his right to be left alone as God, but humbled himself and took the form of a servant.  Why he would want to enter into the sinful muck that is our lives is unfathomable.  But He did it out of love which is a good motivation for us as well.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Nation of Scrooges?

In light of the holiday season, I thought I would post part of an article I wrote based on a presentation I did back in 2001. Please forgive some of the outdated language. I have cited it a couple of times in the past, however, here is a larger excerpt. For the entire article, go to this address Scrooges article.

A Nation of Scrooges?

In Charles Dickens’ famous A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is approached by agents of a charitable foundation. In response to their request for a donation, he remarks,
“Are there no prisons? . . .And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge . . .”Are they still in operation? . . .The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?” . . . “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” . . .”I wish to be left alone” . . . “since you asked me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer” . . . “I help support the establishments I have mentioned – they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.” (p. 18, 19)

These words helped to establish Scrooge as one of the most infamous villains of western literature. The label of “Scrooge” is used as an insult, implying one lacks generosity and caring. However, in America, Scrooge’s assumption that because he pays taxes he is therefore removed from any individual responsibility to the disabled or disenfranchised, may have become the standard operating procedure, the accepted practice, the “state of the art.” Like Scrooge, Americans may assume that their taxes are adequately providing for those in need. Scrooge’s problem was that he had no direct contact with the poor (in his case). Now if the poor were regularly in his midst, if they were somehow a part of his life, if he developed relationships with poor people, then he would have recognized that the state only provides a subsistence level of support. Scrooge would have seen that much more is needed. As Dickens’ gentleman noted, “ . . . they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body.” This knowledge might also have caused him to be held responsible on some level, for their well being.

Has America become a nation of Scrooges? From the White House to the Congress to Main Street, Local Town, Americans have substituted personal concern for their neighbors with the an Orwellian notion of government as our big brother who looks after us and provides for us. It seems human services are the government’s obligation and our right. If I am not being cared for properly, I can blame my congress person or the president as it is his or her responsibility. Community responsibilities are scarce at best. Communities have been replaced by political power bases, caring community members by professional service workers or service providers, dependable friends by acquaintances or chat room regulars. The notion that my local community has some responsibility for my well being, solely because I am a member of the community is tantamount to foolishness. In fact, the move toward personal peace and individualism described by Robert Bellah and his colleagues in Habits of the Heart has even invaded the family to the point that individual family members are more concerned about what is best for him or herself than what is best for the family.

Even in Scrooge’s day, the local community was largely held responsible for its own disenfranchised. The Poor Law, established in the 1500’s coincided with the change over in Britain from Catholicism to the Church of England. This secularization of religion, caused a change in deference from Pope to King. The result was also a secularization of the religious charity which had been carried out by monks as well as individuals within churches. Parliament then assumed the position of influencing how local churches should care for their “dependents.” Laws were passed giving local parish officials the ability to increase church contributions (freely made in the past), with taxes in order to serve the needy. This early secularization of human services found its way to the United States with new world settlers.

Scrooge’s workhouses, also know as almshouses, were institutions often built upon humanitarian principles where the poor could go to both earn a wage and learn vocational skills. Clearly the predecessor of currently embraced work programs, they too found their way to the United States. The Poor Law was one of the earliest permutations of welfare. Lieby (1978) states that these English patterns remained our fundamental provision for the needy until the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Secularization also influenced the professionalization of human services. The 1800’s witnessed the birth of professional societies whose exclusive focus was pauperism, its study and prevention. But secularization is not an evil to be opposed. Religious groups themselves led the way in advocating for governmental social services, as it was thought that only through government, would adequately funded social services be developed.

Even this brief overview demonstrates how human service delivery progressed from local church based groups, to organized charitable groups, to state delivered supports. With each step in this progression, while something was gained, something was lost. What has been gained is a variety of dependable services provided to individuals, largely at no cost to them. But what was lost is caring and community connectedness. The individual helper was replaced by the government, and the mindset that it is some highly trained person’s responsibility to help my neighbor. The reality of the situation is that both are required, both are necessary.

It was Alexis De Toqueville in the late 1700’s who stated, “Under democracy’s sway it is not especially the things accomplished by the public administration that are so great.” The main attribute which De Toqueville praises is democracy’s ability to get out of the way while facilitating the citizen good works. Later in Democracy in America, he speaks of a “restless activity . . . superabundant force . . .energy never found elsewhere” which can indeed do wonders if given free reign to act. Additionally, it will only rise up to act in the absence of something better. That is, it can be stifled if it perceives it is not needed.

You are reminded of my contention that the standard operating procedure for most Americans relative to the needs of disenfranchised individuals is Scrooge’s original response; that of an infamous villain of western literature. “I pay taxes.” In other words, “It is the government’s responsibility, it is not my personal responsibility.”

I remember a woman at my church who’s husband was jailed for embezzlement. As a leader in the church at that time, I was contacted to help her. In an attempt to excuse myself from responsibility, the following words came out of my own mouth, “I have no training in working with families of felons.” The words had hardly been spoken, before I realized how indoctrinated I had become. I had bought the lie that it was some trained individual’s responsibility to help this family. This was in spite of the fact that help that was needed was obvious. There was the need for emotional support, babysitting and help with finding a job. Special efforts needed to be made so that the family would not be ostracized. Yet there I was, hesitating to help as I thought about the governmental services to whom I might refer the family.

Other examples quickly come to mind. If an acquaintance is out of a job, I think of how I might help him. However, if he is in a wheelchair, I wonder if he has contacted the Department of Rehabilitation. In a real life situation, I knew of a disabled woman who had been raped. However, her care provider just took her back to her group home after the incident because it was after hours, and the Department of Developmental Disabilities was not open at the time.

Without De Toqueville’s superabundant force, the end result is a tax funded human service system which is top heavy. A human service system which is over-professionalized and specialist dependent. Being top heavy and thoroughly professional, it is overworked and understaffed. It’s face to the public, however, is that you need us to live your lives.

Three Quotes

The interaction between Scrooge and the charitable agents reveals a great deal. Using three subsequent quotes from the dialogue between Scrooge and the charitable agents, let us briefly examine the plight of the disenfranchised and what has become the American response. Please also consider how faith groups might contribute to the solution.

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

The first observation of the men collecting for charity, is, “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.” That is, for whatever reason those in need often shun help. The question to ask is whether they are shunning help, or simply help in the form in which it is offered. Clearly there are those with mental illness, addictions or other issues who as a direct result of their disability cannot recognize assistance.

I am acquainted with a homeless individual who’s mantra is, “I need a program.” On one point, several people rallied around him and developed what they thought was a very good program. Their approach included leasing an apartment that was actually a small house for him over a six month period. They then linked him with psychiatric assistance where he was evaluated and given a regimen of counseling and medication. Others provided furnishings for the apartment and food staples, down to cat food for the man’s cat. In the end, the man refused the psychiatric help, refused to take the medication, turned his apartment into a storage unit to the point that he couldn’t even enter the apartment to use the facilities. He was ultimately evicted partly because he used his yard and the basement of the adjoining building for further storage. When confronted about his lack of cooperation with the help provided, he responded, “You don’t get it! That approach was destined to fail from the start. The psychiatrist didn’t know what he was doing, and renting only contributes to the coffers of the city’s wealthy, destabilizing America’s economy. I need something more than an arm’s distance approach. I need someone to roll up their sleeves and do something. I need someone to take me into their home, to let me live with their family.” It is debatable as to how many people this man represents, but clearly he would virtually rather die than submit himself to the kind of program (a program which seemed great to me) that was developed for him.

O’Henry made a similar observation in his story, “The Cop and the Anthem.” A homeless, perhaps mentally ill man named Soapy, seeks to be arrested so he can spend the winter at the island (jail) and out of the cold. O’Henry writes,
“. . .And now the time was come. On the previous night, three Sabbath newspapers, distributed beneath his coat, about his ankles and over his lap, had failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his bench near the spurting fountain in the ancient square. So the Island loomed big and timely in Soapy’s mind. He scorned the provisions made in the name of charity for the city’s dependents. In Soapy’s opinion, the Law was more benign than Philanthropy. There was the endless round of institutions, municipal and eleemosynary, on which he might set out and receive lodging and food accordant with the simple life. But to one of Soapy’s proud spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If not in coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at the hands of philanthropy. As Caesar had his Brutus, every bed of charity must have its toll of a bath, every loaf of bread its compensation of a private and personal inquisition. Wherefore it is better to be a guest of the law, which, though conducted by rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman’s private affairs.” (p. 61)

These two vignettes raise an interesting question. Do some people choose to be disenfranchised? I am confident that the overwhelming answer is no. However, there are those who like my acquaintance described earlier, choose homelessness through decisions they make. Deep down we resonate with Soapy’s independence. His cheeky ability to manipulate the system causes up to shake our heads and smile. However, until Soapy gets help, he will continue on in his homeless existence. His life will ultimately end as a victim of violence or disease. He will probably never know family. But like Scrooge, we may be so self-absorbed that we can see past our own front door. If such people do cross our paths, we dismiss them as incorrigible, stubborn or crazy. “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” we say. It is not until we make the effort to find out, that we recognize the quiet desperation of their lives. Ignorance truly is bliss. But life is hard and you might know it. Why? Not to live your life steeped in guilt, but rather to make a difference in the lives of others.

Our culture has placed a high premium on freedom. The idea of submission itself is untenable to many. However, submission is the correct word relative to therapeutic relationships between helpers and those being helped. Therapy is power, although not necessarily in the negative sense. Systems must make demands on those they are endeavoring to serve if they are to have any hope of changing them. A critical aspect of the helping relationship is the recognition that one individual in the relationship has the power to help, but cannot do so without the cooperation of the individual needing the help. This has been referred to as the “quid pro quo theory of human services.” That is, people must be deprived of their liberty in exchange for treatment and habilitation.

Ken Kesey’s damning indictment of human services in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest warms the heart of the non-conformist. The paranoia-induced evil of Chief Bromden’s combine is evident at every turn. The McMurphy character is masterfully developed as the savior of hospital residents, many of whom relinquished their liberty in the hopes of being made well. In the end, McMurphy delivers many “chronics” from the tyranny of Nurse Ratched, however, in reality it is a rare individual who finds healing through a battle with human services. There is some evil in human services, because therapy truly is power, and as the adage goes, “power corrupts.” However, there is also great good that has resulted in change and empowered lives. In the story, the corruption of the good led to McMurphy’s lobotomy. But lets be honest. The goal of human services is to lead the client to independence. Human service providers cannot keep rehabilitated individuals on their caseloads when waiting lists pervade. The struggle for power between McMurphy and Ratched should have been recognized as a sign of McMurphy’s mental health; the goal of human services is not to break a client like some wild horse. Neither is the goal to develop dependence on the part of the client. But the goal might be the social insertion of a disabled individual into the community, which results in community membership. Case workers are also rewarded for successful placements resulting in a termination of services. Only a deluded caseworker would hold onto clients for reasons of familiarity, as her caseload continues to grow. Connecting an individual to a community of his choosing should be the highest end.

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides – excuse me – I don’t know that.”
Scrooge’s reaction is typical of many Americans. That is, if they don’t know something, either they don’t need to know it because it’s someone else’s responsibility, or they think they already know it, or they simply don’t care. Scrooge in his haughty, wealth induced, confidence is used to bullying people. His wealth has brought him a level of respect and community standing which has gone to his head. There is nothing that can be told to him.

Upon embarking on a career as a professor, I was told by a non academic friend, “When you speak to a professor, always begin by saying, ‘As you already know . . .’ because many professors don’t like to be put in the position where they either don’t know something or have to admit they do not know something.” If this in the response of the most highly educated members of our society whom one would think would be less threatened by not knowing something, what of the rank and file members.

But the “I don’ know that” part of Scrooge’s response is not the most disturbing. It is the “If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population” which cuts us to the heart. Are the disabled and other disenfranchised groups “surplus population?” One might think so.

A local Los Angeles radio program once aired an interesting talk back/call in program. The setting was the Christmas holidays. The topic was, “Why do you hate the homeless?” For a full hour, the talk show host took calls from people who unabashedly called in to give their reasons why they hated homeless people. What was particularly poignant, was that while the diatribes went on, the host played instrumental versions of famous Christmas carols like “Silent Night” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in the background, while an angry caller described the foul stench or the ugly disheveled appearance of these gross dumpster divers. Without any more encouragement than the question of the day, callers clamored for the opportunity to relate why they wanted their community rid of homeless people.

This type of response to disenfranchised people is not unusual. Claiming it is the most humanitarian response, we pass laws to allow disabled people to commit suicide. Distraught human beings without hope, come to us wanting to take their own lives and we respond, “Sure.” We make the obligatory gesture of interviewing them to make sure they are of “sound mind,” and then we fulfill their wishes. Clearly, there are people who are in significant pain, or who would request that no superhuman effort be made should their lives be threatened, but as a friend of mine, Dr. Rick Langer states, “We are talking about people who if their lives are not taken today, will go out to McDonalds, or go to the movies.” This is an entirely different proposition.

Baby Doe made a huge splash on the political scene during the Reagan administration. If you will remember, some babies with down syndrome have an accompanying condition of esophageal atresia. That is, there is a constriction of the esophagus such that food cannot move from the mouth to the stomach. Although it is arguable that no surgery is routine, repair of esophageal atresia is routinely done. That is unless you are an infant girl with down syndrome in the 1980’s. The medical response was to tell parents that the individual would have a “poor quality of life,” ostensibly because of the down syndrome, and allow the baby to starve to death without surgery. After all, she will suffer with down syndrome the remainder of her live, right? I personally have know many people with down syndrome, perhaps hundreds, and can say unequivocally that very few if any at all suffer from down syndrome.

Christopher Nance, the Los Angeles television personality relates the story of meeting Ray Charles, the famous singer, at a party. After a while, Christopher asked Ray, “What is it like to be blind?” Charles’ wise response was, “What is it like to not be blind?” Obviously the life experience of an individual is his only personal experience. Perhaps he might dream about something, like a blind man wishing he had sight. But in reality, he doesn’t know what he is missing.

Individuals with down syndrome don’t suffer from down syndrome because they don’t know what it is like to not have down syndrome. If they do suffer, it is because of the society around them that treats them like surplus population.

Why do we condone, or at times even encourage these perceptions? Well, if they would rather die, let them do so and decrease the surplus population. Then there would be less of a drain on Social Security. After all, I don’t want it to run out before I am eligible (to be a drain on society). Then our community won’t have to be bothered by the homeless, or look on the disabled. Then we won’t have to park fifty feet further away from a front door, or be bothered by our elderly relatives

. . . And as Americans, you might know it.

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

The third observation the solicitors made to Scrooge was that he “might know it.” That is, he might recognize that many cannot participate in the government programs, and for a variety of reasons, many would rather die than submit themselves to what they perceive as a treatment worse than the disease. It is not unusual in our society for program eligible individuals to shun participation in a program because of the rigamaroll they will have to face. However, because of Scrooge’s cocooned existence, he is able to live on in his misconceptions about how the poor live. The distance between Scrooge and those potentially benefiting from his help is so great that he is unaware of their situation.

What is required is some means whereby those individuals needing support can intrude upon the sheltered haven of those having the genuine potential to provide assistance but are not. One must believe that most people if confronted with a problem will attempt to be a part of the solution rather then contribute to the problem. Individuals will often dismiss their responsibility, however, using the trite response that they don’t know what to do. “I would love to help, but I don’t know where to start” they say. Referring back to Scrooge, after his interactions with the Christmas ghosts, he immediately grasped a hold of a course of action. The ghosts brought him into direct contact with Bob Crachit’s dilemma. He therefore used his resources to purchase a goose, buy toys for the children, assist with medical services for Tiny Tim, etc. Additionally, he sought out the agents of the charitable foundation and made a generous contribution. Scrooge recognized that individually he could help by supporting persons with whom he had direct contact while concurrently augmenting state benefits by contributing to the coffers of organizations providing services to supplement the state benefits. This course of action is obvious to the reader from the beginning of the story. The reader sees these acts as the unmistakable solution. However, what is obvious to one, apparently is not always obvious to another.

Scrooge really didn’t need the intervention of the spirit world to see the course of action he ultimately took. Perhaps the spirits, particularly the ghost of Christmas future, helped to break the bonds of his greed, but the solutions he finally adopted were nothing particularly novel. He came up with common sense solutions to the needs he observed.

I once provided an inservice training to a large group of special education teachers who worked with children with severe disabilities (severe physical disabilities and mental retardation) of various ages. The focus of the inservice was the “state of the art” in the education of these students. One of the basic premises of such educational programs is the effort to integrate students with and without disabilities together. At break, several teachers came to me decrying the fact that general education teachers with whom the worked were less than willing to integrate their nondisabled students with students with disabilities. Although I agreed that this was indeed an issue, I decided to poll the special education teachers about their own social interactions with adults with disabilities outside of work. I asked, “How many of you have regular social interactions with adults with disabilities outside of work?” Of the nearly 500 teachers in attendance, perhaps 20 raised their hands. I then asked, “How many of you have children of your own, who know the names of adults with disabilities with whom your family socially interacts?” Even fewer hands were raised. In this situation, we arguably had a group of trained professionals having significant experience with disabled individuals who were themselves unwilling to become involved in the lives of adults with disabilities. Yet, these same trained professionals expected those with less knowledge and less experience to be the ones to lead the way in the integration of individuals with disabilities into the community.

In reality, it is often the common-sensical community solutions which are the best. Professional services can be distant and too generic, while local support is more responsive and caring. Professionals also have solutions limited to their personal realm of experience or menu of services, at times overlooking real supports that are actually occurring. This professional bias was once graphically illustrated to me in the review of a grant proposal I submitted to the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, of the Department of Education. The reviewer wrote, “Why is the church viable as a focal point of integration in Southern California in the 1990’s.” Although the grant proposal never implied that the church was “the focal point” of integration, the reviewer, not being able to see past his own bias, couldn’t recognize the potential of the church (in this example) as a participant in the solution to community integration of individuals with disability. This is in spite of the fact that a significant portion of the population do indeed attend church.

Dr. Julian Rappaport took on this notion of bias through a discussion of multiple solutions and convergent versus divergent reasoning. Picking up on arguments by E.F. Schumacher, he observes that there are at least two very different kinds of problems in the world.

One type, convergent problems, are those characteristic of inanimate nature. For such problems, many solutions are offered that gradually, overtime, converge toward the right answer, one that turns out to be stable, if improvable over time. Problems of this type are either solved, or “as yet” unsolved. There is no reason, in principle, why unsolved convergent-type problems should not be one day solved forever. It is obvious that this attitude is very effective in the material world, whereby through the choice of problem, exact measurement, and quantification, all problems chosen can and will be solved . . .It is far from obvious that social problems are of this type.
"What if, rather than converging, we find that equally clear, logical answers, which are exactly the opposite of one another, are developed by equally clear, logical people; that is, the solutions diverge rather than converge?"

"This is, in fact, the case in social science over time . . .as new solutions are developed and institutionalized they become one-sided, and other solutions not seen before, and contradictory to the first, emerge . . . If we are dealing with problems that are dialectical in nature, then they will necessarily yield many divergent solutions rather than one convergent solution, not only over time but even at the same moment in time. That may be one reason why social science seems to have no single dominant paradigm in the Kuhnian sense. Usually we lament the diversity of conflicting paradigms. It may be that the nature of the phenomena are such that a diversity of paradigms is a true reflection of the things studied, which may be best understood in more than one way."

We must avoid the trap of behaving as if there can be a single best solution for a particular human service problem. We cannot be like the child whom when given a hammer thinks everything is a nail. Over generalization of solutions will result in inadvertent negative effects. This principle was illustrated in the United States during the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970’s. Clearly the conditions of many of the institutions for mentally retarded adults were deplorable. However, a wrong solution was to simply close down the institutions, cutting the residents loose with the promise of monthly social security monies. Surely the institutions needed to close, but surely many of the sorts of supports provided within institutions needed to be provided within the community. This was an example of an issue with a paradoxical nature. If we do recognize a paradox, there will be a greater likelihood that we will be useful in solving the problem. However, we might also say that paradoxical problems are solvable, although solvable in a variety of ways.

The problem of supporting disenfranchised individuals in the community is clearly a divergent one. Yet our solutions have become convergent. Governmental agencies will only support individuals according to a specific menu of program options. Potential, existing, community, support agents are disdained or not considered because of dubious philosophical positions. In referring to the U.S. system, L.D. Park (1975) has gone so far as to say, “A confused value system by a confused government makes normalization for the handicapped virtually impossible.” Entire segments of the helping community remain unsupported or supported only with accompanying “strings attached” which may frustrate the successful manner in which community groups do their business.

This has been dramatically illustrated through the church and state separation issue. In the past, the government has interpreted the notion of church and state separation in such a way, that certain aspects of faith based community supports had to be eliminated in order for a group to receive any governmental support. Such an approach, at once evidences the type of convergent thinking we should disdain. Additionally, such decisions are made independent of a group’s success rate (in the case of faith based programs, at times above that of non-faith based support groups). In the end, individuals needing support may be faced with submitting to programs having demonstrable less success than other programs. Governments wring their hands at the societal problems they face, while at their doorsteps stand various successful programs which their philosophical bias will not allow them to consider.

Please understand my position, however. First, I am not saying that faith based programs, for example, should be the only support options available. Such a position would be no different than that excluding faith based options. No reasonable possibilities should be excluded. For example, through frequent interactions with individuals who are homeless and mentally ill, it is observed that this type of individual is difficult to serve, particularly in the community. Might it be that this individual would be better served in some type of institutional facility? It is difficult to say. Having spent time working in an institution for individuals with severe and profound disabilities in the 1970’s, I am slow to even approach institutionalization as an option for services. I directly observed the horror of state institutions, and was a vocal advocate for their closure, but was I short sighted in my advocacy? I arrived at a solution which simply converged outside of the doors of the institution, and that was foolish. Many of the programs that are touted today for the support of individuals with disabilities, will ultimately be seen as equally foolish. The range of options must be broadened to include nontraditional options that have never been attempted as well as traditional support systems which have been forgotten or progressively abandoned.

Yet, if it weren’t for the various charitable foundations, the state would truly be inundated and overwhelmed by the level of need. These so-called “natural supports” have always existed in the community to a greater or lesser degree. In fact, it was many of the natural supporters who originally pushed for the government to get involved in providing services because natural supporters were unable to meet the needs on their own. Interestingly, after the decades of governmental support provided through various human service agencies, we have come full circle. The natural supporters were overwhelmed and turned to the state. The state is now overwhelmed and is turning back to the natural supporters. But it is not as simple as that.

G.C. Stone (1979) once observed that the state provides services when what is needed is caring. This sentiment is echoed by others (McKnight, 1985). This is in no way to imply that state human service workers are uncaring. The reality is quite the opposite. Caseloads, agency regulations, and funding all impact the involvement of case workers with the individuals they support. These constraints began with the original movement away from natural support. Unfortunately, the move to bureaucracy of government support also began a move away from caring. This was not a part of the original plan, but the sheer numbers of individuals being served put the state on a road which could lead it nowhere else.

You yourself might think you have had little involvement with the state in terms of the human services it provides, and that the services are not that bad. However I need only mention two sets of letters, two acronyms, which will give you some indication of the experiences of those who are dependent upon state services: IRS and DMV. Perhaps your experience is different from mine in your interactions with these agencies, but it is suspected that the experience is generally the same. One would prefer to have no more interaction with the IRS than to receive a tax form in the mail and send it back filled out, with check, etc. (although it would probably be preferred to not even have that interaction). I have personally gone to the extend of paying cash money to people to have my taxes prepared in order to even limit the pain of this minimal interaction. Likewise is the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Now maybe the attitude of the workers which is sometimes experienced there is a reflection of the clients they must deal with. It is suspected that it is a combination of the clients themselves and the sheer volume of them. However, I for one do not look forward to going to the DMV. How interesting that the American Automobile Association (AAA) has as a selling point that they will take care of registration, title transfers, etc. for their members; a significant selling point. We who are not living on a government check from month to month bemoan our interactions with the state. Why would the experiences of other individuals with other agencies be any different?

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So in conclusion, are we a nation of Scrooges? If we rely exclusively on governmental services, yes we are. If we look to someone else to help our neighbor when we have the ability to do so, yes we are. But lets get more personal. If I believe it is the government’s responsibility to take care of someone, perhaps I am a Scrooge. If I cannot name people I am helping, people who are disenfranchised, in my own live, perhaps I am a Scrooge. If my children cannot name a disenfranchised person known to my family, then perhaps I am a Scrooge. Scrooge was a villain in the 1800’s. Is he a nation today?

Merry Christmas,