People who give up don't do well.
People who feel as if they have no options, no power, no hope for progress, improvement or relief don't enjoy the same level of health and wellness as others who feel like they have more control over their lives.
There is clear, empirically verifiable evidence that having choices and a sense of power over one's circumstances results in better health outcomes. The absence of a sense of personal power and control likely explains, at least in part, the health outcome disparities between white and black Americans of the same socio-economic status in the United States.
Bottom line: community organizing, activism and collective social action are prerequisites for any viable plan for neighborhood and individual advancement. This fact is why charity alone is not only an insufficient response, it is an inappropriate response in any long-term strategy for rediscovering health and hope in depressed communities.
Doing for others typically produces negative results in the lives of those we seek to "help."
Doing with others often results in a growing sense of the value and authenticity of collective efficacy and social control.
Years ago I was involved in a church's outreach to a very poor and neglected area of South Oak Cliff here in Dallas. We partnered with a neighborhood church in this very depressed area to host a giant Vacation Bible School for the children who lived nearby.
One of our volunteers during the week was a retired dentist who had never participated in anything in a neighborhood like this one. As we worked together with the community and as he observed how things actually worked in this poor part of the city, he became incensed to say the least.
"Why, these folks can't even get the city to pick up their trash on a timely and regular basis," he complained to me during one of our preparation trips to the neighborhood. I told him that he was correct in his observation and that we "weren't in North Dallas anymore!"
The facts spurred him on.
He called the City of Dallas, both the Sanitation and Code Enforcement Departments. In just a few hours the trucks were rolling through the community picking up the trash. My friend felt good, and well he should have.
The problem though was that the people who lived there permanently had not felt as if they could affect such changes with a phone call or two. He obviously possessed a power they did not enjoy.
In reflecting on our week, I have often thought that we might have made better use of our time by meeting and talking with neighbors about their sense of social control and how they could organize with us to take on-going, sustained, collective action. The outcomes would have been better and improved health outcomes would have resulted as success was achieved over a longer period of time.
Attempting to "do good" can be dangerous and even harmful affair. I am learning that the best response to people caught in poverty is to apply the "Golden Rule," remembering to treat them like I would want to be treated if I were in the same situation.
Respect, mutual action, listening and organizing to change things out of a commitment to justice is the way to proceed. And, of course, a good dose of common sense is always helpful.
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