Thursday, February 07, 2008

Reasonable Passion or Venomous Anger?

When I talk to people about social or political issues, I find that my temperature rises. Sometimes my voice gets a little shaky. I can feel my heart beat a little faster. Some call it passion. My brother tells me it's venom.

He's not the first one to tell me this. Nor is this a recent development. I can remember our CEO telling me many years ago that a funder told him that I sounded angry. Larry said he explained to him that if he had seen what I had, he'd be angry, too.

Though I suppose I've always been a pretty passionate person, I don't remember ever being "angry" about poverty, wealth, government, and racism growing up.

Why not?

Because it didn't affect me then. I grew up in rural Missouri. Though there was (and is) quite a bit of poverty, it wasn't me. There were no people of color in that area when I was a kid. The government worked for us as far as I could tell.

Then I grew up...got out of college...and came to Dallas. (I've been told Dallas is it's own political and racial beast and different than any other city. I'm still doing my research, but I haven't found anything to refute that to this point so far.)

I experienced being around people who did not have phones in their homes in 1995...before cell phones. This is still common among friends and neighbors in 2008.

I experienced being around children in 5th grade who could barely read a "See Dick run" passage.

I was a part of a segregated neighborhood that white and middle class people feared, but had never even ventured in to get to know the people who were there (unless they were evangelizing or selling insurance).

The longer I've been here, the more I've learned about the way our system has worked to benefit wealthy people who manage to get into positions and work the system to benefit them. I've learned (and still have lots more to learn) about the strategic ways poor people and poor neighborhoods are intentionally and blatantly left out of the process.

From what I've read and learned, people, it seems, are not ashamed of doing things to benefit themselves to the detriment of someone else. It's survival of the fittest. It's capitalism. It's the way our society works.

It doesn't matter if the playing field isn't even. It doesn't matter if they got a head start in life. It's their right. And if they can work the system to get ahead even further, so be it.

I simply don't agree. I think we all miss out by leaving others behind. I think we have faulty rationale when we are willing to put someone behind bars at $35,000/year and know that they plan prison beds based on how many children can't read by 3rd grade, but aren't willing to invest in our children at the front end to keep them out of prison in the first place.

I think our rationale is faulty when we say our government simply doesn't have money for these programs to help the poor, but have plenty of money to invest into a flawed strategy in Iraq.

I think we're wrong to suggest that poor people shouldn't get anything extra because it makes them feel "entitled" when the wealthy have a different system of entitlement. Theirs is simply a system where they feel entitled to getting no-bid contracts or other business deals because of the position they are in....and the reality is their entitlement factor is of much greater consequence.

No matter who we are, we find money for what we want.

So why do I sound so angry?

Because I've watched it and lived it on from both sides. I've been in the position where I benefit from what is happening in the city and in the nation (and except for the neighborhood I live in, am still in the position to benefit)...and I see that there are hard working people who deserve...not people's charity or leftovers after they've purchased all of their needs or wants...but deserve the justice of having a livable wage, a good school system to send their children to, a safe neighborhood, the opportunity to be healthy...and being able to make choices themselves based on the income they have worked hard to earn.
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