Us and Them
- Published on Thursday, 27 February 2014 08:40
|By: Marianne Lynch|
When I first started thinking about this month’s blog, I decided that I wanted to take a position on the proposed increase in minimum wage. Since many of the people I have served in my non-profit career are minimum wage workers, I felt that this was something important to me and that I want to see changed. As I did my research, it became clear that an increase to $10.10 an hour would elevate 900,000 people out of poverty but could, at the same time, take away 500,000 jobs. I know that it is a complicated issue to say the least but one that I believe with every fiber of my being should more accurately reflect the true cost of living.
While researching my blog, I had the opportunity to read some of the comments associated with the articles I examined (in the NY Times, CNN, philly.com) and I have to admit, my anger started to bubble up scrolling through the venom and hate that was being expressed. The vast majority of people who chose to comment felt that somehow people making minimum wage had some sort of personal shortcoming or had made bad choices and this was their punishment – not being able to house themselves, feed themselves or take care of their families. Never mind that they work just as hard as anyone (actually much harder than most), sometimes finding it necessary to hold two or three jobs in order to make ends meet, being forced to live in less than desirable places because that is what they can afford, put their children in harm’s way trying to get to and from school, and scrape by just to eat. Somehow, the commenters perceived that people earning minimum wage deserved what they got and should be thankful for having a job at all.
I know, I shouldn’t pay attention to the comments, after all “haters gonna hate” but this idea isn’t confined to a few people using their keyboards to share their skewed view of the world. I’ve heard a running theme lately and it seems to becoming more mainstream - that there is an “us” vs. “them” in our country. If you are somehow disadvantaged (poor, old, disabled, underpaid, etc.) you are defective and not deserving of basic human rights, quality of life or even a little happiness. I think this philosophy stems from an idea of scarcity, perhaps one of the consequences of the great recession.
As I began thinking about this idea of an “us” vs. “them” I can’t help but see that this way of thinking undermines the true spirit of being an American. We believe in teamwork, opportunity for all, and most importantly that if you work hard, you will get ahead. We also believe that it takes the doctor, teacher, coffee server, janitor, and retail clerk working together to make this great democracy run smoothly. I believe we are partners in creating a stronger society through education, innovation and opportunity. If there is an “us” vs. “them” mentality, it minimizes all of us – the doctor and the cashier alike - because it treats us all being less than human. After all, who gets defined as “us” and who gets defined as “them”?
That is one of the things I love about Habitat for Humanity and one of the principles I believe brings so many people together to support this mission. There is no “us” and no “them.” At Habitat, when we work with a family, we are partners. I think that I am helping with a “hand up, not a hand out,” but in reality what I find is that they contribute much more to our partnership than I ever could. Our families teach me grace, love, gratitude, grit, perseverance, and hope. Families are given a chance to thrive because of an affordable home and it propels them to success in their lives. Families work hard and they get ahead. Children graduate from good schools and go on to college, families build equity, moms and dads change careers and make more money…all because there was no “us” and no “them.”
While this debate over minimum wage rages on, I ask you to think about our model. It creates wealth, contributes to the community, and supports the economy through all the things that come with homeownership (taxes, light bulbs, new bed pillows, and a good rake!) Similarly, wouldn’t an increase in disposable income do the same?
- Published on Friday, 07 February 2014 11:30
|By: Jean Ford|
Did you know that the first month of our calendar year is named for Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, doorways and transitions? Janus – traditionally depicted with two faces – looks simultaneously at the past and future, seizing the opportunity to concurrently reflect and resolve. I love January, perhaps because I love the concept of beginnings, doorways and transitions. After all, that’s what Habitat is all about.
Janus… “looks simultaneously at the past and future, seizing the opportunity to concurrently reflect and resolve.” What a profound challenge in just fifteen words! What potential wisdom and power in just two: reflect and resolve! What transformation can begin with just one: looks! Yes, looks.
This time of year, New Year’s resolutions abound. Whether individually, collectively or corporately, many of us know where we’d like to be, and in our haste to get there, launch into well-intentioned, but frequently unsustainable, action. The problem? Too often we skip the critical step of looking.
Have you ever used MapQuest or a GPS? Two locations are “musts” before either tool can determine a route: destination and starting point. (How useful would a mall map be without those huge, red “you are here” markers?) Ask any navigator, whether air, sea or land; he or she will tell you that in order to chart the best course to any destination, an accurate starting position must first be established. Even in football, “the chains” come out for a reason.
Similarly, I believe that those interested in homeownership cannot effectively determine the best path to realize that dream without taking a thorough and honest look at where they are right now – financially, life-stage-wise, employment-wise, etc. That’s where homeownership starts; that’s where homeownership is sustained.
Too many of us, though, myself included, can find it emotionally easier short term to avoid facing our actual state of affairs. How? By simply dismissing facts, pretending they don’t exist or by sanitizing the truth of our situations (financial or otherwise) by minimizing details and/or rationalizing particularly thwarting barriers brought on by past poor choices. Frankly, we’re simply too afraid, too ashamed or too overwhelmed to take an honest look at where we’ve been, hence where we are. But the ease avoidance offers is fleeting; and by ignoring our straits, we likely compound them.
I’m a great example. Those who know me know that this writer is a wee bit overweight and out of shape. (Note “wee bit”: classic minimizing. Guilty as charged.) I know where I want to be (the destination), but for months I’ve been afraid to look, and the pounds keep creeping on. If I’m not willing to step onto that accursed thing we call a scale, or worse, have my BMI measured (i.e. accurately determine the starting point), I don’t know where I am and will likely end up developing an unsustainable fitness plan or one potentially injurious to this middle-aged body. No, my knees are not what they were 20, 10, even five years ago, no matter how many times I tell myself that I can still do everything I did when I was 30; and I’m carrying more weight now, regardless how much I protest that it’s really not that much. My BMI? I’m not going there here (!), but being willing to look honestly at where I am physically right now – no matter how uncomfortable, convicting or embarrassing – enables me to create more realistic, hence more doable and sustainable, lifestyle changes that can result in genuine transition to a healthier me, one which lasts. Conversely, if I don’t have an accurate starting point, my route will be faulty, and the destination, unreached. Accurately assessing current financial health and habits is no less critical to getting and keeping a home. And Habitat can help.
First, HFHMC’s family selection process includes mandatory steps (early on) for assessing mortgage and homeownership readiness, i.e., steps related to “looking.” The ultimate destination (securing and keeping a home of one’s own) is known, but even as a professionally certified homeownership counselor, I cannot effectively guide – or keep – any family there if they and I don’t know where they are right now. How do we establish that “you are here” spot? By setting aside insecurities, embarrassment or fear – no judgment here! – and looking together, openly and honestly, at the past (via credit reports, previous tax returns, etc.) and resolving any historical issues that have become homeownership barriers; then looking at current life stage and financial position (via most recent paystubs, W2s, bank statements, award letters, support decrees, debt statements, other account documents, etc.) and setting up a plan to address existent challenges; then, finally, resolving to follow through on those action steps and tracking proven progress over months to come. Reflection and resolution: both start with looking.
Second, Habitat is not only in the business of putting people in houses, but also of equipping them to stay there. Yes, we help our “applicants” look, reflect and resolve in order to transition from tenant to homeowner, but what do we do to help those already in Habitat homes? Sometimes our homeowners need a little bit of help, too. To that end, we’re launching “financial check-up” classes this February for our current homeowners, one which will offer tips and tricks for budgeting and reaching financial goals, including eye-opening tools to see where one is, help determine where one needs and/or wants to be and how to get there. Look + Reflect + Resolve = Transition.
This is January, that time of year many of us gaze at the past and future simultaneously in order to open doorways to transition and transformation: I, you, our applicants, our current homeowners, even our affiliate. Yup. Janus can teach us a great deal. The first lesson? Just look.