Friday, October 19, 2012

A Cascade Effect

It's common for those with some level of monetary security (even though it's not wealth) to look down on those without.  I remember years ago when Rush would dispute the line, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."  He had a point.  It does matter that people rein in their spending and that they work hard and make good decisions.

But what I've been noticing is how bad situations multiply.  Also, how good situations multiply.  It's like there's a spiral, going up or going down.  It's like there's momentum in one direction, momentum that can be slowed or increased, but which is very hard to reverse entirely.

A person may have been in a devastating car accident.  A woman may have been abandoned by her husband, with children to care for.  Maybe a house fire.  Maybe cancer or some other disease.  Maybe a house that turns out to be termite-infested or full of mold.  Sure, bad things happen, and people can (and do) work hard to rise above the circumstances.  But when there are ongoing health problems, it makes it harder to obtain work and advance in the company.  When there are financial problems, there's that much less money available, and so maybe a person can't take advantage of a good deal when it pops up.

And in the same way, good situations feed off themselves.  Maybe a teenager can find a good job because the parents have connections.  If there's extra money, it can go toward investments, or toward paying off a house (or buying the next car with cash) so that less is wasted on interest.  A person with good health can expend the effort and ability to do things that not only save money but also increase well-being; consider older folks who cannot shovel their own walks or clean their own gutters and what it will cost them to hire someone to handle those chores. In this society, a person with nice clothes and pretty looks will face different opportunities than those with haggard and grizzled appearance.

Katie was telling us today how some of the people Nathan runs into at work look down on those who have less.  Katie was listening to moms at the library who are pleased that one of them found a maid who will work for very little money.  In both cases, it was like the poorer people deserved what they got.  And it is true that poor choices will often result in uncomfortable results while responsible choices may result in more freedom.  But certainly not always! 

What are people supposed to do when they're stuck on the downward spiral?  Can we intervene in others' bad-momentum and slow it or reverse it?


  1. My observation is that it is a rare thing to be able to intervene in others' bad-momentum in a significant way. The momentum is also a mind-set or a culture, and changing that takes a monumental effort on their part.

  2. I disagree, Sandra. Because I am in exactly that kind of situation, and it is not because we have been irresponsible with our money. We have done everything "right" and yet, here we are. This past week, for the first time in my life, I had to accept charity in order not go hungry.

    It can be a mindset or culture but it is most definitely NOT always that way, and to assume that it is is to commit the same mistake that those at Nathan's work who look down on the less-fortunate do.

  3. Humbling to be sure. I cannot pretend to be destitute. I am truly humbled by those who face increasing poverty. As Susan's post indicates, there is the idea that the reality of poverty and becoming more impoverished can definitely remain a thing we don't really understand unless we have been there. I know people who have and are facing the downward spiral and I can not say I can grasp it because it hasn't happened to ME. It seems a very fine line between those who can approach and speak with respect to those who have less and those who stumble through their words and think they are being gracious? It is hard. Yikes. See I am digging a hole for myself in even explaining what Susan's post sparks in me. I went to the food bank last week to get food for our church food bank and I did not feel noble but rather like I am a bit stuck up. So what if I feed a crowd at home? I probably have spent more thinking time before now on how I cannot relate to those in higher income layers and then surprise! I feel totally spoiled. A brat. One day at a time by the Grace and Mercy of Christ and then I do not even see how incredibly soft and easy life is. Hope this makes sense. I guess I am saying I can say I feel clueless and sheltered and spoiled. My sensitivities to others shield me from how others suffer. Thank you Susan for posting on this.

  4. And......I am blabbering. Eyes rolling at myself.

  5. Bikermom, I don't think you're blabbering. I know what you're talking about.

    Sandy, I've been in the position where I've tried to help people, and no matter how much you do, no matter how much you give, it's never enough. When you finally realize you're doing more harm than good by "helping," and you quit, some gentle-hearted person comes along and replaces you as the enabler.

    I think there are times though when, no matter what kind of effort is expended, things are not going to "go right" for a person ... and that may be through no fault of their own. John was jailed and beheaded; Jesus' disciples bailed on Him; Paul was stoned and left for dead, and shipwrecked, and all sorts of crud. Sometimes looking like Jesus means we're not comfy. And yet, we do what we can to share the burdens of our brothers and sisters.

    It's weird. In the left-hand kingdom, things often work under the rubric of "You get what you deserve." But even there, that's not always how things turn out. Cheaters may get the goodies. Hard-working and honest people may be taken advantage of. And the momentum so often does keep heading in the same direction.

    And yet (as EC is experiencing too) we have been on the receiving end of kindness and support when things were going increasingly wrong. The compassionate acts of others did make a difference, and did help change the direction and the momentum. And we are very thankful for that!

  6. Oh, dear EC, I am so sorry for how my words came across. Please forgive me. I'm especially chagrined that my words sounded accusing to you right at the time of your suffering.

    Susan's comment about the "enabling" is closer to what I was getting at. I was thinking of the person who, for example, is resistant to receiving flour and oatmeal, only wanting pre-made boxed food. Maybe it's mental illness that keeps that person from being able to expend the energy to change, and we need to have continuing compassion for that.

    How do you help the person who sees himself as a victim, no matter what happens? That is totally not you, EC. My love to you. Lord, have mercy.