How about this? Here’s a new rule - you can’t say anything about a group of people unless you can call to mind somebody in that group whom you know and after calling their face to mind you think that you would be able to say what you were about to say as you look directly into their eyes.
Have you ever been to the University Plaza Hotel in Springfield, Missouri? You might have been there for an event of some kind, or a dinner, or maybe a “conference” type of deal? If you haven’t, you likely know the kind of place it is - big fancy hotel, ornate lobby, a bunch of meeting rooms, big “ballroom” for banquets and stuff like that.
I know a guy who works there whom I will call “Chris” for this article. I know Chris really well. He is not my friend by any means. However I am well acquainted with him, since I have been intimately involved with his life for over two years now.
Chris works at University Plaza Hotel; he washes dishes. Do you have a general idea of how much a banquet facility like that charges per plate? If the hotel sells three meals, that takes care of paying Chris for his entire minimum wage shift, and then some. And they could almost cover it with two. Two plates - you and the person sitting next to you - Chris’s check for the entire day.
Chris rides his bike to work, because he and his girlfriend cannot afford to keep a car. He is strong, he works hard, he never misses a shift. He is almost always tired. I cannot begin to comprehend the stress he must be under.
They had been renting a house. The plywood of the front porch slopes away from the front door. Every doorway from one room to another in the house is crooked. The foundation is cracked and crumbling. The roof is a disaster. To my great shame I confess that I would never ever live in a house like this.
Actually they don’t live there anymore; they could not afford the rent, even on such a house. So there’s a motel in north Springfield that basically changed their name from “Motel” to “Apartments” without doing much of anything else that I can tell. Now Chris and his girlfriend live there, in what’s called a “studio apartment,” but is really just a motel room with a curtain hung across the middle to divide the space if desired.
So that’s Chris. He is not lazy. He does not have an inflated sense of “entitlement,” a word that politicians have rendered almost meaningless. What Chris wants is a standard of living that would allow him to get married and raise his son, to be healthy and just be able to live a decent life.
It is Chris’s face that comes to mind whenever I hear anybody say something about “the poor.” Admittedly I do not have as much experience working in impoverished communities as some do, but nevertheless I have a lot more than some. And I always think about Chris when somebody starts in on how “all they do is scam the system” and “you know they’re just looking for a handout” and “I don’t want something I earned to be given to someone else because they should have to earn it” and so forth.
Of course there absolutely are people who choose not to work and make a career of going from charity to charity getting aid. But in all honesty my experience has been they are an extremely small percentage - like in the single digits.
I always wonder about people who so blithely write off “the poor” as just lazy good-for-nothings, or as somehow inherently dangerous, or as moochers living ungratefully off the hard work of others. In particular I wonder how much time they have spent in impoverished communities. I wonder if they've ever been inside a house that they would never dream of living in. I wonder if they've spent any time getting to know the person they deliver that pretty food basket to, or do they just drive up, drop it off, and dash away.
I wonder if they have a “Chris” whose face they call to mind when they talk about the poor.
And I wonder if they would really have said what they just said if they did.