Do you know the real meaning of self-sufficiency? Are you truly self-sufficient? These questions are asked in the context of economic self-sufficiency not all around life self-sufficiency.
I HATE THIS term and the premise behind it. There are few people in this world who are truly economically self-sufficient. Yet a large part of our country believe that this is how “all” people should be and they truly believe that they definitely are self-sufficient!
Let me explain by telling you a true story. A few years ago – early 2000’s – I went to Boston, MA for a conference. I was hanging out in “Back Bay” by our hotel at a bar. I am sports fanatic and love to go to a good sports bar and watch games with people. I also like to unwind in the bar at the end of most hectic conference days. So I am sitting at the bar and there were a group of young Caucasian men who were dressed very well and having a good time.
We started talking because I was cheering while watching the baseball game. It was June and the season was off to a bang. So I was cheering and enjoying the game, and as many men do they started talking to me – ladies if you want to meet men go to a sports bar and talk sports. As the game conversation moved on they started discussing politics. At the time I was in grad school and they asked me what I was studying? I told them Public Administration with a concentration in Social Equity. Then they asked, what are you going to do with that degree? I told them I plan to take my experiences to create and write public policy that will enhance the lives of many but especially those who are disenfranchised. They rolled their eyes.
From the moment I spotted these guys, I could tell they were highly educated, successful and living pretty good lives. So, I said to them why do you roll your eyes? Do you understand Social Equity? “Your going to change the world!” (smiles and laughs)
Then they gave me an established reply, “those people should just get their lives together and get with the program” and then “No one ever gave me help or assisted me with my problems. I had to take care of myself.”
Then it was time for me to smile and laugh. I began my interrogation. This was not the first time I had done this. I had and continue to do with many people who want to discuss what it means to be in poverty or what a disenfranchised community experiences. There are a few things I have learned about debate. One is you must love it to be good at it; another thing is you must obtain information to be excellent at it; another is you never ask a question you don’t know the answer to and the set up for your winning the debate is key to you being superb. This debate I love.
The set up! I asked them, “So you are telling me you are self-sufficient and that you got that way on your own; with no help?” They all puffed out their chests and said “Hell yeah!” “I’m my own man! Nobody every GAVE me anything!” This is the typical answer people who think like this give. “I see that you all have on some pretty nice clothes, handle yourselves well and look like all around American men! You all went to college, right?” “Damn straight – Harvard, Yale, Stanford,” You all look like you probably went to graduate school.” “Hell yeah! We are all “bloodsucking” lawyers”! (their words not mine)
“So, when you went to college and graduate school, you paid for this on your own? Out of your own pocket?” I continued my challenge. They all looked at me sideways, “Well no” they answered. I continued, “You all have wedding rings on, so you are married?”
Me: “When you got married I am sure you had large beautiful weddings?”
Me: “I am certain you all live in your own homes?”
Me: “Your down payment were you and your wife’s funds, from money you made by working? Not from a Trust fund? The family didn’t assist you?”
Them: “No! Yes we had help!”
Me: “You did all of things with your own funds?”
Them: “Well no!”
I let into them. “EXACTLY” The term self-sufficiency means that you went to work made your money and then paid for all the things you have. You did not, you had assistance from some loving parents who took care of you. You had people who paid your education, your wedding and supplied you with a down payment on your home. Not all of us have this support system.
My mother went to college on a full academic scholarship, but she still was not self-sufficient. Because she had to live in her parents home and my grandfather paid for all the supplies she needed for her education. Most of us have someone or multiple people who assist us in our lives. The people you said should just get their lives together usually don’t have a support system or one that is not good. You are starting on a different playing field, have some compassion for your fellow man.
One of the guys said that he has had plenty of people try to explain this concept to him, but no one ever did it so succinctly and with such passion. Then they turned and asked the bartender to make me a drink as well as telling him, “ Her drinks are on us.”
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Social Equity is the cornerstone of society, which cannot be maintained for a few at the expense of the many.
I am blessed to have been mentored by the late Dr. Phil Rutledge and to have his blessing to be a member of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Standing Panel on Social Equity in Governance.
*Thanks for reading, please leave comments and pass the word!