The political debate often degenerates into a call for compassion for the less fortunate. We are asked how anyone could be so cold hearted as to deny handouts to the impoverished. The "progressives" point to wealthy Republicans that only pay millions in taxes on income that had already been taxed, and ask why they shouldn't be taxed more in order to pay more handouts to those in government housing, getting food stamps, and a monthly government check while not working. They claim that the RNC is the party of corporations and the rich, though the richest men in the world are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to elect "progressive" democrats. Though George Soros spreads his wealth to numerous "progressive" groups, from the "occupy" types to "moveon,org," the "progressives" complain that the Koch brothers have donated to grass roots organizations like the Tea Party.
The "conservatives" often reply with figures pointing out how much money Republicans give to Non-Profits, particularly in comparison to the Democrats of the same stature.
There was a time, in America, when a person faced with financial troubles, first turned to family. If family couldn't or wouldn't help, they turned to friends. If they couldn't or wouldn't help, they turned to the church. And the church still has programs to help. There are the "Catholic Social Services," the "Salvation Army," as well as more localized groups like the "Rescue Mission." When people "fall through the cracks," these organizations provide a safety net to pick them up. These organizations are highly effective and efficient, because volunteers prepare meals with donations. The Rescue Mission provides a meal for a cost of under $3, for example. In contrast, it costs Billions in tax dollars to provide food stamps valued at far less, because so many bureaucrats are paid so much to process the paperwork and count the dollars so many times.
But, how compassionate is it, to merely provide a free lunch? To answer this, I must refer to a group of Veterans that worked in Africa. In a war torn and impoverished country, every non-African there was almost instantly beset with beggars. While the locals shopped in open air markets, the westerners shopped at the very few grocery stores in the capital. They had to run a gauntlet of amputees begging for a dollar to get in or out of those stores. The Westerners lived in gated apartments, protected by security guards and rarely ventured out, for fear of the mobs. And most of those Westerners were there as a part of some NGO sent "to help."
The Veterans were there as part of the Security for just such an organization, and they were spread out in small numbers at 3 of the apartments. The boss implemented a rule: Never give money to beggers. He wasn't calloused. He understood the repercussions. He was experienced in the effects.
These Veterans instead, found a way of giving a job to those that wanted or needed money. It didn't take much to make an impact. A "good paying" job in that country was $3/day. When these Veterans went downtown, they might pay a local to "guard" their car, or to wash it, even if it didn't need washing. Sometimes, they paid locals to fill potholes in the road. Sometimes, they would pay to have someone run to the store.
While the internationals there with the NGO's hid behind their walls and feared the diseases on the hands of the locals, the Veterans boldly walked the streets, shaking hands with the Africans, walking with them and talking to them. Discretely, out of view, they'd use some Purell, and shake hands with more locals later on. The locals gleamed when they saw the Veterans, who treated them as humans, even as they begged and guilted the NGO's who pitied them as unclean.
Pity is an injustice. Pity is an emotion that relegates another human as below the one who gives it. While the locals were willing to play on the pity, to beg the NGO's for "a dollar," they gave no respect to, nor received it from those who were "too good" to shake their hands.
One of these Veterans took his boss' rule to a new level. He stepped into the street outside his apartment knowing he'd be beset by beggars. He was. They soon learned there would be no handouts. He made the rule that not only would he not give a handout, but that there would be no begging on the entire street, and then in the entire neighborhood. When he found a particularly industrious young local who had set up a small table (1'x1') to sell sodas to passersby, he "suggested" that another "well-off" local loan him the money to expand his business.
The young businessman turned his table into a 8'x8' shack, and then a 8'x24' restaurant. He went from pushing a wheelbarrel to employing his wife, and then another local.
The street was soon booming with business. Crime stopped. Other internationals began to feel safe walking to the markets. The locals stood straighter. They earned their wages.
But what about the efforts of churches? There were good and bad examples. A bad example was an African "evangelist" who flew in from another African country, preached his sermon for a week, collected bags full of donations, and got on a plane and left with the money. But there were also churches supported internationally who set up schools in every part of the country, spreading knowledge. In a country that was nearly 100% illiterate, a school cost a few hundred to build and very little to teach grade schoolers to read.
There are good and bad in every group of people. In any place that hope is fleeting, there will be wolves that step in to sell snake oil to the impoverished. In every instance that compassion is warranted, there will be those that scam the well-meaning out of their donations. But giving a meal creates a dependency on the giver, while teaching to earn a meal creates an independency and pride that breeds prosperity.
And when those Veterans left that country, the locals cried. They were loved. They were respected, for they had given something greater than money; they had given respect and self-respect. They had not saved the country, but they had positively impacted the lives of those that knew them, even if only for a few minutes.