Part of a series on my participation in the Putnam County Leadership Academy.
A little over a week ago, I had to do something I never thought I would: abstain from checking my Facebook timeline. This was supposed to be an addiction that I gave up.
For a week, I didn't scroll to see the latest political post and wish my Facebook friends a happy birthday. Even though I did produce one, I also did not post my weekly blog.
But it wasn't just me. Each member of the PCLA 2020 group had to do something that was out of the ordinary for them; something they would not be forced to do otherwise. Some in our community will do these things just to keep afloat -- or to merely survive.
One of us slept a night in a car parked in a public space. Another had to eat $4's worth of food a day. Someone researched how to help someone contemplating suicide. One of us went through a day while using either crutches or a wheelchair, while another had to cook dinner blindfolded. One wore earplugs and wasn't able to hear for a day.
I think that giving up Facebook was easier in comparison. I could've given up bourbon (the first thing someone suggested after Lynn read me the challenge) or tea or coffee.
I instantly realized at that moment that I had options. As a working adult with the capital, I had the privilege of choosing what I gave up for the week. My challenge highlighted the difficulty some have with coming off much more harmful addictions.
These "experiments" were about each of us trying to put ourselves in other people's shoes. We tried to "do it with them" in a way. However, did we really go far enough?
To pose this in other ways, did we merely try to sympathize with those who don't have the resources? Did we just pretend? Did we only recognize problems to be addressed?
To those who do service work in our community, these may be surprising -- if not offensive -- queries about their efforts. "Of course we all care!" they might respond.
Those questions, though, led our group to think about Robert Lupton's concept of toxic charity.
Lupton is a pastor who has worked with the disadvantaged in inner-city Atlanta, Ga., for the past 40 years. After serving a tour in Vietnam, he says he felt a calling for community work. He then found he could not make an impact with troubled youth without understanding their family situation -- and then the environment they're in.
He felt compelled to become a part of their community and do that good from within. However, he observed that those who receive this charity feel disempowered, while we feel good about ourselves when donating that can of soup.
This is what Lupton characterizes in his book "Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It)" as being one-way giving.
He provides that when you give the first time, there may be genuine appreciation. However, there is anticipation of it the second time. The third time, it becomes an expectation. The cycle devolves into entitlement and ultimately becomes dependency.
Lupton adds there is a crucial difference between a crisis and a chronic need. Crises absolutely require intervention in the moment. Conversely, chronic needs require development. When we respond to chronic needs with crisis, we then create victims.
French philosopher Jacques Ellul wrote that, "Almsgiving is a mammon’s perversion of giving. It affirms the superiority of the giver, binds the recipient, demands gratitude, humiliates him and reduces him to a lower state than he had before.”
Rather than seeing people as being in need, Lupton suggests we should see them as having resources and talents to better our community. The influencers come in here.
He challenges our businesses, nonprofits and government entities to empower these individuals through hiring them and lending assistance. He challenges us to invest in them, but to never do for them what they have the capacity to accomplish themselves.
These are pivotal tenets behind compassionate helpers becoming effective stewards of community resources. The finite message here may be that we are all in this together.