Social Change the World Needs

This Century’s Great Moral Problem

Sheryl WuDunn calls attention to the powerful positive impact helping a girl get educated can have on a village.  She shares stories of triumph and struggle.  She highlights the injustices that are perpetrated on women and girls. Then she offers opportunities for improvement.

In this blog, I want to focus on the social problems right here at home. While I am writing from the state of Louisiana, in this post I am considering home to be anywhere in the United States of America. Lest we forget, most of the issues we face are minimal as compared to much of the world.  We definitely want to pay attention to the least of these in this whole world.

Here at Home

In our own towns and states, it is in our own best interest to help the people who struggle. Excessive prisons and mass incarceration are a drain on the economy, even though they provide employment in the communities that house them.  Addiction and the underground economy of drug dealing create more violent communities. The stresses from violence ripple throughout our structure, law enforcement gets stretched, trauma units in hospitals are expensive, and the unrelenting stress of feeling unsafe is a health risk for humans. Underemployed single mothers not only do not have enough discretionary income to add to the economic well-being of your town, their teenagers are often up to no good.  Family dysfunction, loneliness and a sense of hopelessness all contribute to mental health issues.

The Common Thread

The common thread of these issues is that they impact women and children disproportionately.  Imprisoned parents mean lonely children. Drug addiction contributes to violence in many ways, including domestic violence.  Dysfunctional families are a factor in mental and behavioral health issues. Unsupervised young people are often detrimental to the community.

What’s That Got to Do With Me?

Everything.

We are our society. We are our government. Remember the Gettysburg address, “of the people for the people and by the people”? It means all of us. Sheryl WuDunn ends this TED talk with two primary reasons we should take on these issues.

Paraphrased, she says, “Once we have our material needs taken care of, one of the only things that can make us happier is contributing to a cause greater than ourselves.”

Call to Action

Privilege and responsibility are Siamese twins.

In addition to contributing to international causes (e.g. Heifer International,  Kiva, Samaritan’s Purse, UMCOR, etc.) how can you find a way to reach out in your own community?

 

Top Ten Issues in our Society

    1.  Child welfare systems: Chronic underfunding, overwhelming caseloads and a crying need for services  interfere with our ability to really help those who desperately need intervention and support.  Our system damages the very families it tries to help.
    2.  Addiction recovery: Much of the excessive imprisonment in our country is related to addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Our punitive system doesn’t fund the way out of this cycle.  Do we want it to continue? Or do we deeply believe that some people who are addicted to substances don’t really deserve to be helped?
    3. Homelessness–affordable housing:  When we have many citizens living on the streets, it is an indication of a lack of care in our world.  There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are people who are suffering.  Sometimes the people who are without a roof over their head are working. However, wages can be very low, and inexpensive housing is rare.
    4. Job readiness training:  Many times people do not learn basic job skills in their formal education. Without a caring person to teach the basics, young people falter and have difficulty holding a job.  A cycle of unemployment, disenchantment, and negative behavior will ensue.  We have to find a way for people caught in that negative spiral to find a way out.
    5. Healthcare access: Our current system has made some impact. However, a large segment of people cannot afford to pay the premiums for the insurances that are available. They have no recourse for consistent health care.
    6. Mental health recovery: There are many things that can help people who experience life in a way that does not serve them.  Depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and schizophrenia all are treatable conditions. Access to help is lacking.  We need to let go of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and create ways to surround people with the healing power of love.
    7. Immigration issues: How can we address the practical negative impact of people crossing borders and working without documentation?  The impact is not just on our economy, it is that these people often work with none of the protection of legal safety practices.  They are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the fear associated with their legal status.  This issue is negative all the way around.  The narrative that undocumented aliens must be sent back to the home country is too simplistic.
    8. Educational deficits:  There are schools that are failing to teach people to read and compute basic math.  What can we do to support the school and the students to make absolutely certain that each child becomes literate to the basic skills of survival in the 21st century?
    9. Drug dealing-using culture:  Criminalization of drugs has created a culture of predatory dealers, people wrapped up in addiction and a violent response to life.  How can we enter in and address the factors that contribute to this ongoing issues.
    10. Massive incarceration of people.  Our system of mandatory sentencing, get tough on crime, and zero tolerance coupled with the “War on Drugs” have increased the number of prisoners in our country.  The result is massive expenditure on imprisonment, cutting funding on recovery issues, cutting other programs.  Not to mention that we have put a large portion of a generation of parents behind bars. The price paid by the children and families and communities is tremendous.

It’s disheartening to list all of these huge, interconnected problems. Ugh. Closing my eyes and pretending that these issues have nothing to do with me is so tempting. It would be easy to think that my most pressing concern is the interest rate on my Visa. What I experience day to day in working with the population whom I serve is that these issues are present and have a tremendous impact on the lives of real people in our communities. And I know that what touches your life touches my life. We are all connected.

These issues can be impacted by policy decisions in the government offices. However, the government cannot mandate the heart to love people who experience these challenges. The government cannot meet the soulful needs for respect and hope and the belief that things can change. The greatest need we have in our communities is for people who are not experiencing these issues to stop looking down on people who need help.

What do you think? Are these the biggest domestic problems we face? What direction do you think we need to take?

What’s Your Purpose?

Finding purpose

Finding purpose in our lives is an on-going quest. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl is a tiny book which has a big lesson. His description of a day in the life of a Jewish prisoner in an internment camp in Nazi Germany is visceral. The take away from the book is that a “why” is the most important element in life. People who lost their sense of purpose and meaning to their lives did not have the internal grit to survive.

Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is a current movement in commerce. The idea that our businesses need to have a purpose beyond financial profit has taken hold of our imaginations. The people who have begun their careers within the most recent ten years often seem to strive for making a difference in the lives of others. Pencils of Promise and Tom’s Shoes each have a mission far beyond the bottom line. Pencils of Promise is seeking to build schools in developing countries. Tom’s shoes provides simple, sturdy shoes in South America. There are numerous other organizations which have a purpose far beyond themselves. This is a powerful understanding and I celebrate it!

What about us?

But what about those of us who are just starting in our entrepreneurial journey? Do we have to travel to the developing world to get fired up about helping in another country? Is giving money the only way we can help the broken and impoverished of this world?

I believe that our purpose can be much simpler and closer to home. There are many things we can do to help in our own backyard. When we live in urban areas, there can be places which we rarely visit; the poor side of town, the ‘hood, the ghetto, call it what we may. There are pockets of the developing world right in our own backyards. In rural areas, it’s harder to sniff out those who are in dire straits, but when we pause in our striving we know they are there.

My experience is that people who are struggling for survival have many reasons for the challenges they face. Whether their reasons are internal or through systems within our society, reasons exist. If it is internal, then we are the best ones to offer assistance. We can lead and guide in shaping the thoughts and attitudes which get into a person’s way to block their path to success. Because, often we have found our own way over, around, under or through the same boulder on the road.

What do you think?

Possibilities for those aging out of foster care!

Some interesting things have popped up in the past few days. A social movement is underway and may be gaining momentum. More and more people are paying attention to what needs to be changed in our society. Frustration with the lack of real solutions from the government generates a deep need to do something. The cool thing is that nothing enlivens a community more than working together on a common cause. And, it’s good news-bad news, it’s never difficult to find a situation that needs some attention.

Children and families need help. In a state which loves family as much as Louisiana loves family, it is surprising to know that our care for children through state services is appallingly lacking. It becomes less mysterious when we recognize that Louisiana people love their own families. There is not as much care and attention paid to the needs of others.

Chere Breaux is a realtor in the Acadiana area of Louisiana. She helped my daughter’s family find their home. She is spearheading a movement to start a ministry called Seeds To Success. She plans to house young people who have aged out of foster care in the state of Louisiana. This is such a necessary ministry. Our state cut its funding to the program that was able to help this population. One of the problems the state faced is that young people are so sick of dealing with the state’s bureaucracy and inconsistencies that many were not interested in staying in the state’s care. Seeds To Success will offer them a real opportunity without all of the baloney of dealing with the state system. It looks like a wonderful program. She has an initiative on GoFundMe to raise the money to get started. I would encourage you to go and donate! https://www.gofundme.com/seedstosuccess

Questioning the child welfare system

I am beginning this blog in order to open a conversation.  I am saddened by the damage that is inflicted upon the victims of child abuse and neglect by the child welfare system which is designed to rescue them.  I do not believe that there is malicious intention involved, simply bureaucratic quagmires.  My hope is that this conversation will lead to a plan and to action.

I have lived through the cultural shift which has occurred around cigarette smoking. When I was a child, many movie stars and television actors smoked on camera.  It was completely acceptable to smoke at one’s desk, in a restaurant, and on an airplane.  That has dramatically shifted in the last thirty years.  This powerfully significant change came about because people started speaking up and pointing out the negative effects of this behavior.  No one person is responsible for this shift. But, it began somewhere and others joined in. Maybe it began in several locations.  Perhaps I will find that our voices are joining others in crying out to do something different for our children.

My work as a Chaplain for a children’s home invites me to really hear a child’s story from their own point of view.  Listening to the pain that they experience through multiple placements, continual adjustment to new environments, rejection from family after family and always a subtext of longing for love and acceptance from their own biological family makes me acutely aware of the failures of our system.   We must rescue these children from abusive and neglectful homes.  But, there has to be a way to do it without having the child rejected over and over again.  Surely we can figure this out!

But, I am not inside that system. I don’t know what barriers it is up against. I don’t know how to fix it.

Maybe you don’t know what I am talking about.

When a child enters into the foster care system, a placement in a foster care home is secured.  This can be challenging because there is often a shortage of homes.  A  child who has been severely abused or neglected will be prone to significant behavior problems.  And, they are not easy problems to manage.  Bed-wetting, cursing, violent outbursts, stealing, and self harming behaviors are not uncommon.  So, care is taken to find the best home possible.

Think of yourself.  Out of the generosity of your heart you have opened your home to a foster child. In comes this child who has behavior problems.  You believe that you can deal with anything.  Yet, this child does something so awful to your child that you realize you would be harming your own child if you keep this one.  So, you call your social worker and they come and pick up the child.  You feel like a failure. It is devastating.  But the child receives an internal message that they are somehow flawed.  This child has been rejected again.

This happens over and over again to some children.  Now, I believe that there are children who find foster families and have a long-term healthy and loving relationship with them.  Or, their parents are able to overcome whatever their barrier had been and receive the child back.  (Which is what we all want!) Frankly, I don’t meet the children who have a successful foster care placement.

The intentions of the agency which has responsibility for the child are in the right direction.  A desire to protect and nurture the child drives the work.  Then intentions of the family which opens its home to foster care are in the right direction.  A desire to be a safe haven for children who need a family.  The intention of the child is in the right direction. A desire to be loved and accepted, but without the skills to behave in an acceptable manner.  If everyone involved is leaning into the right direction, how is it possible that we get it so very wrong for individual children?