The current front runner in the Republican race for the presidency is none other than Newt Gingrich. That is surprising considering his political career has been plagued by what might be considered dubios behavior. While Mr. Gingrich's behavior as a politician has been controversial, it was Mr. Gingrich's recent comments about poor children that struck a chord with me. Mr. Gingrich's beliefs that children in poor communities lack positive work influences was intially offensive to me.
As a solution to the epidemic of poverty facing poor children in America, Newt's ideas lack in scope an understanding of the debiliting nature of poverty. I was raised in one of the poor communities of which Mr. Gingrich spoke and attended the public school in that community. Initially, the thought of poor children being required to perform janitorial services sent me into a rage. But a conversation with a friend served to cool my ire a bit.
Upon reflection I can acknowledge that the words of Mr. Gingrich are not completely false. It is true that children in poorer communities often do not have positive examples of industriousness. And even when someone does demonstrate a strong work ethic, it is likely accompanied by an attitude of frustration arising from low wages and the resulting inability to get out of poverty. The poverty cycle precludes poor children from witnessing what we like to think a strong work ethic garners, such as character, peace of mind, and self-esteem.
In a society where we so greatly value material wealth and gain, and shun those who have little in the way of "things," children living in poverty look to those in their community that have the trappings of prosperity. Those with nice cars, jewelry, and the latest fashions, usually set the standard for hard work and wealth -- even if those items were obtained through illegal means. When community members do succeed through traditional means, they usually migrate to a more prosperous part of town. And so, children in poverty rarely have role models who exhibit what a spirit of determination and a strong work ethic can create. Mr. Gingrich is correct. I have seen it firsthand.
The issue is in Mr. Gingrich's solution. I'm encouraged that his attention is on poor children, but rather than simply strengthening the status quo, he might consider working to shift a culture that has no respect for, and no sense of the humanity of, those in poverty. His statements reek of privilege. They sadly suggest a belief that the hurdles poor children face are their problem only, and not an impetus for America to shift its value system.
In his recent address in Kansas, President Obama spoke of American values and our need to reclaim them. He said, "I believe this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules." At this time in our nation, the economy is struggling, and we are being forced to reexamine what we expect from society and one another. What do see when we imagine a country where everyone gets a fair shot? Will we continue to measure a person's worth based upon how rich he is? Or will we value a person on his ability to develop his unique gifts and strengths, eventually offering these gifts to create wealth and make our nation stronger? If we are to reclaim the values the president spoke of, we must within our own hearts determine what we value most, people or money.
I know that I must, if I'm to contribute to a more promising America, look within myself for my ideas about people's value. Where in myself do I hold that rich people, simply because they have money, are more worthy, and provide greater benefit to our culture, than those who are impoverished?
Thank goodness for my friend who offered me an opportunity to calm down and hear the words of Mr. Gingrich. "Be grateful for the First Amendment and each citizen's right to free speech," he offered. It is because of free speech that we know what people truly believe. Ask yourself today, "What do I believe about those who are rich and those who are poor?" Based on the answers you discover, is there anything you might do to shift your consciousness? In the place where you sit, what can you do to create a nation where everyone gets a fair shot? What can you do to create a nation where capital serves the growth and advancement of all of its citizens?
Let me end by saying Mr. Gingrich's comments came really close to home for me. My mother was a prostitute and my father, her pimp. The things I saw and know first hand are scary. But the truth is I survived with very few examples of hard work and success. However, the examples I saw in the homes of relatives during holiday breaks, or in the parents of my middle class school-aged friends, lifted me. Seeing a different way of life touched a place deep within me. The few examples of success and hard work that I had the privileged of witnessing gave me permission to call on my divine nature to overcome the poverty I faced. And if I can do it, anyone can.