Our society values independence—often at the expense of interdependence. We love the story of the man who pulled himself up by his boot straps and defied the odds through sheer will power alone! His self-reliance wins our admiration. We hold him up as an ideal; we strive to be like him: I, too, can make it on my own—if only I want it enough. But that’s BS. That guy? Is one in a million. And to hope to be like him is folly. Rather, if we want to succeed in life we have to admit that we sometimes need help. We have to be unafraid to ask for help and unashamed to take it when it’s offered.
Lately, the message we get from the media (such a powerful influence in our 21st century lives) is that to need help, to seek out help, to accept help is bad—the news is inundated with politicians and pundits who claim Americans take too much. They call us a “country of takers.” They claim we all want handouts, that America labors under the burden of an “entitlement epidemic.” All this rhetoric works to perpetuate the myth that we shouldn’t need help. It shames people into avoiding help when they need it.
In one of my cases as a Guardian ad Litem, I worked with a mother whose children had been removed into DSS care because of neglect—it was benign neglect, though. She just didn’t have the resources to support her family as a single mom, receiving no child support. She tried as best she could, but with a minimum wage job and two kids, she was struggling to make ends meet. We were working with her to get her set up with resources to help her care for her children while she was getting back on her feet. She was absolutely mortified that her children were in DSS custody, humiliated to have caseworkers in her home, judging her fitness as a mother. She loved her children desperately. She broke down and cried and asked what she had to do to get them back: “I’ll do anything!” she promised. As we signed her up for SNAP, I asked her why she hadn’t applied for food stamps previously; she certainly qualified, and it could have made all the difference. She cried more. She asked if there were any way around it. She was incredibly resistant; when she finally relented, she hung her head in shame, defeated.
I struggled to understand until she made it crystal clear: “I don’t want to be one those welfare moms.” This is an example of the detrimental impact of all that entitlement rhetoric—the people who need help, who deserve help, who would use the resources we have in place the way they are meant to be used are ashamed to take advantage of those resources. For that, we should all be ashamed—ashamed enough at the very least to dial back the rhetoric.
PS: have you read my disclaimer?