Good and Bad Men

A famous Jewish Rabbi once said, “The poor you will always have with you.”

In another famous text, Dao De Ching, the author is quoted as saying, “What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, no matter how clever you are. It is the great secret.”

In my work, I am often reminded of both of these teachings. Now, let me say first off, it’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the language used when referencing “good” and “bad” men. But, maybe that’s the point…to get us perturbed at these words so we are almost forced to think about those words, the way we use them so casually in all aspects of our lives, and the way we cling to labels like these in all aspects of our lives.

If you really stop to think about it, if someone were to call you bad, are they a liar? I know if someone calls me bad, initially I would be really defensive and probably lash out. However, taking the time to think about it, what they say is true…I have been bad in the past. Who hasn’t? We could all say the same thing about being called good.

Our Perspective on Good and Bad Depends on our Lens

I think our problem lies in not recognizing that each of us has the capacity to be both bad and good. Furthermore, bad in one case is good in another case…you know the saying, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. It’ all about perspective and the lens through which you look at the world.

So, please don’t get caught up in the language of that verse and read on with me as we see how these two statements relate to the world we live in and how we can use these in pursuit of our philanthropic efforts to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings.

What About Poverty and Wealth?

First, since that famous Jewish Rabbi said those words, has he ever been wrong about it? And, let’s take it a step further, when we use the words poor and poverty, we most often think of money and wealth, but couldn’t it also be describing other traits? Traits like character, the systems we live with, being, intelligence, to name a few.

If we’re being really honest, haven’t we all experienced poverty of something in our lives? And, often, don’t those poverties lead to other poverties? In the book, When Helping Hurts, the authors, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, talk extensively about how a poverty of being often leads to a poverty of wealth.

In our modern-day society, we take wealth to mean money and assets. The word wealth comes from the Old English word, wel, which means good fortune, welfare, and happiness. In our time and culture, many of us equate our welfare and happiness to the amount of money we earn, the toys we have to play with and the dollars in our bank account. Those of us who don’t have enough of these things, we call “poor”.

Working in a homeless shelter and being among the financially poor you get to see how the poverty of money, stuff, and assets is most often caused by a poverty of being. To say it another way, people without true wealth or wel, outwardly display this inner poverty through being materially poor. When we give money, shelter, food, and clothing, we are meeting necessary material needs. But, our work cannot and must not stop here.

Meeting Those Experiencing Homelessness Where They Are At

This is what makes Stepping Stone a bit different. We meet our residents where they are at and we give them a place to call home with all the necessities to support their physical lives. Then through our case management, we start doing the real work to address their unique individual barriers to stable housing.

But, if we as a society want to end homelessness, while concentrating on individuals, we must also address the system. We must see and understand that many of our current efforts to address poverty and other issues like drug abuse, crime, violence, etc. is a result of a broken societal system. What we’ve been trying to do for eons is make people feel sane in an insane system.

More To Come

In this series of posts, we’ll dive into some of the issues and views of the world that contribute to our insane system and I’ll offer some suggestions on how we can transform our world. We’ll confront some long-held beliefs that can be perturbing. But that’s what we need, to be perturbed, because when we feel that discomfort, we’ll be moved to action and with enough of us acting, we might just be able to change the world together.

Jeff Conner, Development Officer