When I wrote an article about poverty, I wasn't sure where Brandon and Leah, the two people I shared about, would be in the next few months. I needn't have wondered. Turns out, nothing has changed. Despite receiving money from various people for rent, access to free babysitting, and bags of groceries, the last few months have been peppered with evictions, arrests, jail, and now prison. Unfortunately, I am not surprised, and you probably aren't either.
It is really easy for me to identify their stupid financial (and life!) decisions and ignore the impact that their life history has had on their future. But people don't have to have drug addicts for parents or live in poverty to struggle financially or to struggle to fulfill life's potential.
Take another friend I was talking to the other day. Barely into his thirties, Adam has a lot of things going for him: He's healthy, has no consumer debt, and a job with lots of autonomy and flexibility, even if it's not the highest paying job around.
“I feel like a failure,” he said, eyes lowered to the ground. “I'll never be anything more than a manual laborer.”
“What do you mean?” I said, probably with more bluntness than the situation called for. “You're in your thirties. Statistically, you have decades of working life ahead of you. If you don't like what you're doing, do something else.”
Slowly, he said, “It's not that easy; I don't know what to do. I am not good at anything.”
Talking with him is frustrating. Instead of offering solutions, I should just be quiet and listen — because I really don't get it. My lifetime will not be long enough to complete all my dreams and schemes. And why can't he see that he has potential to be just about anything else he wants to be? Not that there is anything wrong with manual labor at all, but apparently he's not satisfied. Argh.
I don't know all the factors that make us who we are, but the GRS editor sent me a link to an article that just might help people. Little people. Specifically, help little people become big people who tell the truth about themselves and about their future.
While you should go read this article to get the whole story, I'll share a little. The author's son's teacher believes that her impact extends beyond teaching her students about math. Because of this, she asks her students to request four fellow classmates they would like to sit with the following week. The students know their written requests may or may not be honored.
Nice, right? But so what? What the teacher does with this information is the beauty of the story.
The author, Glennon Doyle Melton, writes: “Chase's teacher is looking for lonely children. She's looking for children who are struggling to connect to other children. She's identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class's social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she's pinning down — right away — who's being bullied and who is doing the bullying.”
The teacher is looking for children who are disconnected. They connect disconnectedness to school violence in the article, but that's not the only thing that — in my opinion — is related to disconnectedness.
When she finds children who are disconnected, they just need a little help.
“It is like mining for gold — the gold being those little ones who need a little help — who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others.”
It makes me wonder about Brandon, Leah, and Adam. How would their life trajectories be different if someone had really paid attention to them when they were children? What if someone had poured truth into their souls, so that these three could tell themselves the truth about their past, present, and future selves? Because the lies we tell ourselves have a lasting impact, not to mention a potentially crushing impact on our financial health.
What if someone had been able to get Brandon to believe that his father's abandonment had nothing to do with him? What if someone had been able to get Leah to understand that she was priceless … and she could wait for a guy who valued her accordingly instead of settling for addicts and abusers? What if someone had taught Adam how to share his gifts with others and not be ashamed if those gifts weren't prized by society?
Who can deny that these situations have created people who make terrible (or, in the case of Adam, suboptimal) financial decisions? And in the case of Leah, in particular, her decisions have a ripple effect far beyond her personally. Taxpayers are funding her current and former stays in state prisons. Let's not forget her children in the foster care system or her use of the legal system.
My optimistic heart holds onto the hope that it's not too late for these adults to turn their lives around — but it's easier to develop good habits in kids, right?
Speaking of easier, it would have been easier to write about saving money on baby stuff. Because writing this article has left me a little uncomfortable. But if I want to improve life for someone, I might need to get uncomfortable.
I'm uncomfortable because doing what this teacher does requires a commitment, a lasting commitment. It's more than throwing money at a problem, it's taking the time to get to know a child. It's taking the time to mentor that child. And it requires patience to keep helping the child back up after he or she has failed. Clearly this is a marathon, not a sprint.
What do you think about this teacher's approach? Have you ever done anything like this?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).