I participate on a certain online discussion board. My premiere antagonist is a man who got trounced by a playground bully in fifth grade. He never fails to seek to re-enact that battle with me (or any of certain others), hoping for a different outcome this time. He casts his opponent by turns as the bully he wants to be or the chump he fears he was; and interacts with those projections. It has nothing to do with me. He might as well be playing with his G.I. Joe dolls.
Andy Kessler’s 07/08/13 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Summer Jobs for the Guilty Generation,” is little different. In his quotations of others’ expressions, I hear compassion; he hears guilt. I hear gratitude; he hears guilt. I hear hope; he hears guilt. What’s up with this?
Kessler projects his own guilt feelings onto his son’s generation. That’s easier than owning them, but solves nothing.
Scott Keyes and Eleanor Goldberg both seized upon the most controversial portion of the piece:
My 16-year-old son volunteers with an organization that feeds the homeless and fills kits with personal-hygiene supplies for them. It’s a worthwhile project, and I tell him so – but he doesn’t like it when our conversation on the way to his minimum-wage job turns to why these homeless folks aren’t also working. Perhaps, I suggest, because someone is feeding, clothing and, in effect, bathing them?
As I noted in “Who are the homeless?“, about half of us do have jobs. What they don’t have are jobs that will pay for conventional housing.
But homelessness isn’t the real subject here. The real subject is Andy Kessler. He rightfully feels guilty. He has not done his part to alleviate suffering in this world. There is an unpaid debt to society.
Part of the problem for all of us is mistaken expectations. Neither handouts nor supply-side economics will ever eliminate poverty. We have it on no less an authority than Jesus, that poverty will never go away.
Likewise, homelessness will never go away. Homelessness is no new issue; the shelter where I stay at night was founded in 1885. Like joblessness, its severity will vary, but it will never go away. For every family that comes out of homelessness, another new family will come in to take its place.
But for now, we can help those whom we can. Kessler can help those whom he can. In the process, guilt must give way to compassion, gratitude and hope.
There is no substitute for sustained, direct, hands-on contact with ugly people.
I have reflected on Kessler’s situation. There can be no doubt that in my years as a school teacher, I contributed far more to society – by equipping my children to contribute to society themselves – than I was ever paid.
By that same token, the ideal path for Kessler might be to work as a literacy instructor at a prison, or at a ministry like Jericho; to help those who want to help themselves to become assets to society.
He can relate to them more directly than one may suspect. Having paid their debt to society, these illiterates can now show him how to embrace compassion, gratitude and hope. After all, they all began as he is: guilty as charged.
(Originally published 2013-08-30 at Yahoo! Voices.)