Thursday, 14 February 2013

Opinions and Demands

Well, well, well. There I was yesterday, talking about balance, talking about Facebook, and online discussion, and ZAP, it all came together in one place.

I had accepted an FB friend invite from somebody I really didn't know. I recognized the name (which obviously I shall keep to myself) as a friend of a friend from Multiply. The mutual friend is someone I like and respect very much. But as we all know, sometimes these people at one degree of separation are something else. Why did I accept the friend invite? That's not like me. I couldn't remember any reason not to, that's why. Daft but true.

It quickly became obvious we had little in common. I read most things without comment, and picked up on the fact that this person was a Republican and a Christian. I do have friends in either category and a few in both, but they tend to be exceptionally bright and open-minded examples of that section of society, a section that I really don't get, if I'm honest. That's OK, they don't get me either. But as I said, if they are wise enough, we are able to keep a friendship going and  we presumably both gain something from it.

But I quickly gathered from the opinions expressed in this lady's posts that bright and open-minded wasn't even something she aimed for. Harsh, but true. You are beginning to get the idea. Nevertheless, I read her with interest. I do like to learn. It became a sort of research project. I told myself I didn't have to like what she posted, I could roll my eyes and move on, as with anything else, but I might actually pick up something useful.

OK......Having an ulterior motive to reading somebody on FB, using them as a sort of social experiment is not really very nice. Plus, I left Blogster expressly because I had run out of patience with the right-wing Christians, something I never had much of to start with. I justified it on the grounds that my exposure to this section of society has recently become almost non-existent, and that is unbalanced. You know how I love balance. And they aren't - balanced, that is. And you know how easily fascinated I am. OK. Enough with the excuses and disclaimers.

So, yesterday I unfriended her. Yep. It was a fairly swift decision after one post. It was the most useful post of all, and I decided the experiment had run its course. I had learned something significant, and would gracefully, without comment, withdraw from the scene.

So, what triggered this?

It was a graphic (which some call memes) about people receiving food stamps being able to spend them on "Easter Baskets", ready-filled containers of confectionery. This was discussed and considered to be unacceptable. It wasn't strongly-worded, and you couldn't actually take offence at the way it was discussed specifically, but the gist of it was clear. It's also a common opinion, one that I've heard espoused by plenty of people I like and allow to have that opinion. But let's look at it a bit closer.

I could, if you like, give a good case for both sides of this issue. Yes, that's my balance coming in. That's not the important part for now.

I could say, it's a matter of priority. That, when resources are limited, essentials should be at the top of the list, not frivolous, unnecessary things. Or, that if a person is poor and relying on government welfare, they should be using money they have set aside for treats to buy things like this, and not vouchers specifically intended to provide essentials of nutrition. I could even say that nobody needs an Easter Basket, poor or otherwise, and I could throw in for good measure my own personal biases because I have no need for one.
There are many ways I could justify an objection to this, without being considered too unreasonable, based on frugality, need, and so on.

Let's be honest. Many people who find themselves unable to afford essentials, are in that situation because they spent their limited resources on non-essentials. It is very difficult indeed to be sympathetic to that. Especially if I'm the person being asked to help bail them out. But even if I'm not, when I hear that somebody couldn't pay the rent because they blew half of it on concert tickets, I don't find myself brimming over with sympathy.

One of my boys right now is trying to buy his first car. He has most of the money he needs, but isn't quite there. He is selling a few less treasured personal possessions to raise funds, but I also pointed out that he can change his spending habits. He claimed to have been very economical recently, for exactly that reason, and cited, as an example, that he only bought one thing in the whole of January (a video game). I reminded him that in fact he had bought pop, coffee, and snack food items when out with friends. Naturally, he objected to these examples as being paltry amounts of money, until I made him add it all up. It came to almost $60 that could have gone towards the car, and $60 is $60. These were not things he needed at all.

Because you see, that's how my mind works. As a child I was taught, look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. It was damned good advice. I will not try to claim I always stuck to it, there are very few who do, all of the time, but when it's in the back of your mind it certainly helps with budgeting decisions. The fact is, if you only have a finite income, whatever it is, some things simply aren't important enough and that's the end of it.

However, it is one thing to believe this yourself. It is fine to guide a young person this way. It is even OK to nudge a friend who is mulling over a frivolous purchase, and remind them that it's a long time until payday. It is something else, quite another matter, to DEMAND that others never treat themselves.

I've been poor. Not dirt poor, not starving poor, but I've had to choose between food and heat. We had two young children, a mortgage, and one workman's income, and it was a stretch. I had to make careful plans and budgets, and there were no "Easter Baskets" (or equivalent thereof). But that was my decision, and my choice. You may say it was a wise choice, that's not the point. It was MINE. Nobody told me that was what I SHOULD do. Nobody gave me a guilt trip. Nobody told me, hey, you're poor and it's your own damn fault, why should your kids get treats? Nobody publicly lambasted poor people for buying their children a bit of chocolate.

Because that's what it comes down to, doesn't it? You're poor so you can't have what I have. Ner ner ner ner ner. And your children? Well, they chose to be born into such a pathetic family.

Just briefly, let's look at this is in a fully compassionate way, with absolutely no fiscal aspect to it at all.

Who needs an Easter Basket more, a poor kid who rarely gets treats, or a wealthy one who has them all the time?

I'm sure you've heard either the phrase "I'm alright Jack" or "I've got mine". This is the attitude of those with, who look at those without, and smile smugly at their own good fortune.

But in this example, in this particular FB discussion, it was those also without, resenting it. This is where it gets really interesting. From what I gleaned, all of those opposing the use of Food Stamps for an Easter Basket, specifically, were on low, limited incomes themselves. Presumably not low enough to benefit from Food Stamps, and while I don't know exactly how it works in the state in question, it is certainly a fact that in many places there is a gap between welfare recipients and struggling people, who earn too much to qualify for assistance, and end up being poorer than some people receiving it. Much has been done by government agencies in recent years to stop this happening, but it still does, and yes, the resentment is understandable. So, there's envy there, I think.

Envy is a choice, of course. There's another way one could look at this. Faced with the data, faced with experience, faced with a choice of reactions, one could say:

1. I've been there, and I made do and went without, and so can you.
2. I've been there, and I sympathize, good for you having better luck than I did.

Two personality types perhaps.

There's another aspect of this. There are assumptions. Quite a few of them, but the main assumption being that recipients of food stamps are lazy people who can't be bothered to work. Obviously, this is true in some cases, society will always have a percentage of people like that. We could let them starve to death, but we have decided not to, so their parasitic ways will continue, and that's a whole other topic of its own.

Not everyone who receives food stamps is a lazy bum. In some areas work is hard to come by, that is to say there are mathematically more people than there are jobs, and therefore somebody has to be unemployed. In addition, many, many people who receive food stamps have jobs. They are just so low-paid it's not enough to feed their families on. Whose fault is this? That could lead to discussions about minimum wage, and so on, until we get to the greed of the 1% at the top and I have no desire to do that one today. Let's just stick to the  situation at hand. There are people working 40 hours a week who receive food stamps.

There's another group who receive food stamps. The chronically sick, or disabled. Sometimes it is health that prevents a person from working, or forces them into a lower paid job. Some of these are military veterans. Hold that thought for a moment. A soldier returns from an overseas war, injured either physically or mentally, and is forced to rely on food stamps to support his family, and people resent him being able to give his kids an Easter Basket?

Ah, well that's different of course. All the people that thought it was wrong a minute ago suddenly want him to be an exception. They'll make an exception for all sorts of individuals, actually, when they hear their story. If they gave it enough time, if they stopped to listen, everyone has a story. Even the parasites.

So this is the other view of the whole issue. The view from compassion. The view that doesn't judge people without knowing the details of their situation. The view that says, for fuck's sake it's just a few chocolates. The view that says we give way more than this to the rich, all the time. Yes, WE. We as western society allow more government hand-outs to those who don't need them, than to those who do.

I was actually touched by the idea that a state government, not exactly known for their generosity, would allow this simple treat. Oh, and by the way, anyone objecting to the nutritional value, considering we are talking about FOOD stamps.....take a look at what is already permitted to buy with them. Much of it is garbage. If a nutritional expert was to decide what was permitted, and what wasn't, chocolate would be in, and much of the crap would be out. But governments have never been in the business of ensuring that people get good nutrition, despite their claims. All they have ever done is stop people actually starving to death. Malnutrition is allowed.

Finally, when all is said and done, no matter what you think about poor people, whether you are one yourself or not, whether you think they are all parasites or not, this is about their kids. If children are not the innocent parties here then nobody is. They have no say in the matter about their family's income.

Even this is not my main point. My point is that it is OK to decide for yourself that you don't need Easter Baskets, but it's not OK to force that opinion onto others. This is the bigger issue. This is the attitude of those right-wing types that I cannot stomach. This lack of compassion, the inability or unwillingness to put themselves in the shoes of others. Especially when they claim to be Christian, and forget simple ideas like "There, but for the grace of God, go I". They forget to be their brother's keeper. They conveniently forget so many aspects of their own religion that ask them to help the poor without judging them or placing conditions on them. Then they look down their noses at us unbelievers. OK.

I will now allow for the fact that the people in the discussion I witnessed, which seemed narrow-minded, uncaring, and uncharitable, are just stupid. That's a harsh word, but there it is. Stupidity is defined as not only not knowing/understanding, but not trying to. And because I would be just as stupid if I didn't allow for the fact that they may be stupid, if you see what I mean, that is the kindest thing I can say. Calling somebody stupid isn't usually considered kind, but I will go further and say, perhaps they can't help it. Perhaps they were raised that way and got bogged down in a culture of the same. Perhaps their lesson is yet to come. Perhaps if I painstakingly explained it to them, they'd get it. Perhaps.

It's obvious to any casual observer that I have a touch of the bleeding heart about me, but I believe that's what happens if you look at all the possibilities. I tend to place altruism above just about anything else, even when at my most cynical, because that's just how I roll. I don't expect everyone else to do so, although it would be nice, but we're all different, and some movers and shakers (that the world needs) achieve stuff that ultimately benefits others despite their personal greed and selfishness, and that's how the world works. It's a funny old world.

I'm just saying that that was quite long enough for that experiment.


  1. My heart to yours, Happy Valentine's Day, my friend of Balance and All things Altruistic. :D

    You have covered just about every angle I could think of on the argument of choice and treats. Those who cannot understand the difference between needs and wants are...the "s-word." The question that lies in the back of my mind at times is, "Will they awaken, or won't they?"

    Oh, and even the meager food bank will supply treats as they are donated, so life for many is not strictly "need-based" when it comes to feeding our soul. As we can see, it is not either/or--unfortunately, there are people who still hold that split distinction. :( ~ Blessings!

    1. Covering every angle is what goes on in my head, so it sort of spews out:) And yes, either/or (rather than both/and) is the prevailing way of looking at things. Their loss, IMO.

  2. Somebody would begrudge an Easter Basket for a family with children?....I have the plague so perhaps my stuffed up brain cannot process this because it makes no sense. While I agree with much in your blog - my brain will not allow be to form anything more than a simple sentence. Catch you later or from beyond if this plague kills me.

    1. That's the gist of it, yeah. Someone begrudges it enough to photograph the label in the store and spread it virally around the world, which is a sort of compound mean-spiritedness. But there it is. And they'll all go to church on Sunday.

  3. I see the memes that say if you can afford booze/drugs/tattoos then you don't need welfare - or how ever it's phrased. I agree with that, although a bottle of wine now and again is akin to a mental health treat.

    But a treat basket, based on a holiday (and therefore not an every day thing), for a child... Kids are mean and cruel and will cut down anyone who is different for any reason. What's the first thing kids ask after Easter/Christmas? "What did YOU get?" Never fails.

    As for those who get assistance, there's never enough money to last until the end of the month. Even if a family lived by the tightest of belts, government agencies don't cover things like phone/internet - which some can argue are necessities of life these days. One needs a phone to make appointments and be able to reach out in case of emergencies. And kids these days rely on the internet to do their homework, as teachers assume every child has access and thus they themselves give homework based on that assumption. With cutbacks to education, there aren't many text books in classes anymore. Not in our schools, at any rate. So, right there, families are left short as they have to pull money from the budget to pay for something that isn't covered. Maybe it comes out of their travel allowance, or their personal care allowance. And don't even get me started on just what governments allot for food allowances. On top of that, there's medications. The system here has a co-pay where they pay for most of the prescription and the patient pays 5.00. That's 5.00 out of the budget that isn't counted for, per prescription.

    I would love for each and every government/city official who complains about assistance programs to live by the guidelines that are in place for a period of 6 months.

    1. The key thing there is "now and again". Treats, by definition, are things you have occasionally, not regularly.

      I believe phones and internet are essentials today, especially if you don't have a car, they are an alternative form of "accessibility". It's another argument that crops up regularly, but it's a fact of modern life, which is complex, that these are no longer luxuries.

      Yes, if they walked a mile in somebody's moccasins.......but that's it isn't it? Either you can or can't see beyond the end of your own nose to what life is like for others. I have to tell you Paula, that when you requested a no-yeast bread recipe and somebody suggested you use beer, I had to laugh out loud. People just don't think.

    2. Oh yeah, that beer comment went over REALLY well here. He's the same guy that posted the explanation about the sim card in phones when my cell died. Lot of "know it all", little sense.

      Even if I *had* beer in the house, I'd have better uses for it than to put in in a bread that the Fey Child wouldn't eat.

    3. I swear I could feel your hackles rising from here. It was such a total "let them eat cake" sort of comment. This is why I think it's fair to say that many of these people are stupid rather than actually unkind. It's a form of tactlessness really, caused by not thinking things through. I'm sure we all do it from time to time, but some just seem to make it a lifestyle.

    4. We've already cut back on so many things... The Fey Child had to give up her cell phone (unless she wants to go out and get a job, of course). With my cell dead, and no money for me to replace it at the moment, I'm without a cell. My boots are just about done for the year - hopefully I won't need them much longer this season. We already gave up cable - which was nothing but garbage anyway. I've not had a good 'healthy' meal in weeks. My hair is well overdue for a trim.

      But hey, let me check the fridge to see if I have any beer in there.

    5. The thing is, it's your family, your resources, your priorities, and your choices. I bet that same person who threw out the beer suggestion would be quick to criticize if you WERE spending money on beer. This is the greatest irony with these folk. I've seen it over and over again. I've seen it in the next breath. I try so very hard not to fall into those traps. I DO see people wasting money, but I remind myself it's not my money. And sympathy costs me nothing.

  4. I have been accused of being harsh by some. And not without some justification. If somebody becomes beholden to me, they OWE me. The price for my charity is a measure of gratitude. No gratitude and they can freeze their ass off under a bridge for all I care.

    Poverty sucks. And if one is poor and receiving charity, that sucks too. However, I think that if they do take charity from me, they should do so with some respect for me and not by gasoline for the car when I wanted them to pay the heating bill with the cash I gave. So then, I rarely give those in need cash. I will meet them at the gas station and pay for gas, or put together a bag of groceries, or unstopper a plugged toilet so they don't have to pay for a plumber, or mail off a utility payment for them.

    The reasons for someone's poverty are not of much concern to me. They may be poor due to an unfortunate series of tragedies such as illness or unemployment, or they may be poor because of bad lifestyle decisions. Their necessities are nutritious food and basic shelter, and a wealthy people should not deny that to the poor. But luxuries must be earned.


    I have played Santa even though I am not Christian nor do I personally observe Christmas. And I have dropped chocolates into grocery bags. But again, that was MY choice.

    I look at food stamps as an extension of my giving; being the State is more compassionate than I. (note the wee bit of irony, here). Food coupons are not a right, though many seem to think that they are. Buying an Easter Basket with the grocery money I give them is very contemptuous of my gift. If I had wanted to give them an extra, such as an Easter gift basket, I would have picked it out and presented it to them. I would not likely trust an intermediary with that task.

    Snookums volunteers time each week at a food bank/social needs charity. Twice a week they open their doors to the poor. It is odd how one family will come in, their kids well behaved and the parents humble in their distressed circumstance, and another's children are destructive and demanding while they bitch about how the large city gives more and better things than our little community outreach does. Both types seem to fit someone's stereotype of the poor.

    Snookums tries to be fair when allocating food items, but often finds that she treats the more humble client respectfully than she does the demanding one.

    1. I sure wish Blogger would allow me to correct my errors after I posted ... yeesh! I DO know the difference between by and buy ...

    2. There is a natural tendency to do that, unless you are a saint. And, BTW......I know you better than you think and you're far more soft-hearted than you make out.

      We have to have some sort of limit. Yes. Otherwise the generous get taken advantage of. Been there. Again, it's balance. Generosity can become enabling, especially when the recipient is young and still learning. Children can be spoiled, so it follows that as young adults, if ALL needs are ALWAYS met, nothing is ever really learned.

      Does it matter why a person is poor? That's a really important question in the whole issue, I think. If we say yes, we risk discriminating according to personal bias, if we say no, we risk discriminating against the more derserving, but then we have to decide....ah, there's that risk of bias again.

      There's no simple answer, and we could probably argue that point forever. So long as we are still talking about it, it seems to work, more or less.

  5. As for the religious aspect of it all, I find this quote instructive.

    The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology. Compassion was the litmus test for the prophets of Israel, for the rabbis of the Talmud, for Jesus, for Paul, and for Muhammad, not to mention Confucius, Lao-tzu, the Buddha, or the sages of the Upanishads.

    Armstrong, Karen (2007-12-18). The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness (p. 293). Anchor. Kindle Edition.

    1. I like that.

      It will shock many to discover that one of my favourite ideas about compassion and religion are attributed to the Jewish carpenter. And it's Matthew 25:31-46.

      But one doesn't dare mention that.

    2. Indeed. I have a whole blog about this boiling in my head.

      Compassion and religion is an act. And when you realize this, then faith pretty much becomes irrelevant.

    3. I see no point in any of it otherwise.

  6. I didn't see the picture so I can't comment on that. But I will say this. I have seen people with more gold jewelry on their person than I own, with fabulous manicures, driving a Mercedes and...paying for their food with food stamps.

    I have heard that people swap their food stamps for cash. I have not seen that personally but I have seen and witnessed the above. No, I don't know the whole story. For all I know, that woman could be a drug dealer. No idea. Unfortunately, incidents like that make people livid and it should. It does a huge disservice to those people who need help.

    As far as Easter baskets go, I never gave them out and never will. Huge waste of money and it has 100% nothing to do with my faith and my beliefs. We did hunt for Easter eggs because that was fun. My Easter has nothing to do with plastic grass and peeps and hollow, waxy chocolate bunnies.

    The solid chocolate bunnies from Fannie Mae are a year round treat but I digress.

    Was this about food stamps for Easter Baskets? ??

    1. Well, was it indeed, a pertinent question. No, I think it was symbolic, so you could substitute some other example, and would be able then to leave aside your personal views about Easter, and focus on the real meat of the issue, which may be compassion, or may not. If you scroll down, Ieneke has an interesting observation on this, which I shall now explore more fully.

  7. The phenomenon of people almost at the bottom venting their spleen on those just one rung below, instead of those at the top, is known as "horizontal hostility". It is, alas, quite common. Pointed out many years ago by Gloria Steinem, who gave credit for the insight to a black feminist named Flo Kennedy. I have this obsession with attributing ideas.

    1. Thanks for that one - I shall try to remember it. I find it just plain weird. I've tackled a few people who have expressed this view, to try to find out what's behind it. In my mind it looks like lack of empathy, pure and simple, but some of those expressing it were otherwise really quite good people. Their explanations made no sense. I can't quite get to the bottom of it.

    2. BTW one of the courses I've got coming up is "Women and the Civil Right Movement". Might just get covered, you never know.

  8. First of all, a happy belated Valentines Day to you and your family from ours.

    I agree with the balance (that word again!) of your post. Having known both sides of the financial coin, I realize that what many people think of as "needs" in life are not in fact needs at all.