Just Do Something
You had just gone inside, and were only apart from your son for a minute. And then you hear a thump, followed by a loud scream. You find your 10-year-old near a tree, writhing and bawling and holding his arm.
You’re unable to calm him down. And is that arm swelling?
You send a quick text to your spouse, and you’re on your way to the emergency room. You’re not sure what is wrong, but someone has to find out, and someone has to do something to help your child.
Help Has Arrived, Or Not
During the drive to the ER and the time in the waiting room, your son explains that he was climbing a tree, but slipped and fell to the ground. You assure him that everything is going to be OK.
The nurses take his vitals, and whisk him away for X-rays. After a few minutes, he’s back. He’s stopped crying, but says he is still in pain (“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 12.5,” he jokes.) By this time, your spouse has arrived.
The doctor walks in 15 minutes later. Finally, now we can get some answers, and some help.
Doc delivers the news, “You son has a fracture in his upper arm. It’s a pretty severe break — all the way through — but it could be worse.”
You feel like someone kicked you in a stomach, but you are focused on your child. “What’s next?” you ask, “A cast?”
That’s when the doctor shocks you.
He says, “I’m sorry. I don’t know if can help him, or if we should.”
Getting Answers, Or Not
“What do you mean?!?! You can‘t help him? Or you don’t want to?”
He replies, “We have too many problems or questions.” And he rattles them off:
- “He really shouldn’t have been climbing in the tree. You shouldn’t have let him do that. Now you created problems for others.”
- “We give support to other hospitals. Maybe you should go there. They help people in your position.”
- “What if we try and fail? What if we do something wrong?”
- “What we need is more training for parents, to help them protect their kids better.”
- “What we need are more laws and restrictions on proper tree climbing.”
- “If you’re going to let him climb trees, you should put some padding underneath it, or have him wear a harness. That would have probably prevented this injury.”
- “Think of how many kids break their arms every year. What if they all came here? We’d never be able to help them all. So it’s best that we focus on other things.”
- “Do you how expensive stuff like this gets? And so much paperwork! It’s complicated.”
How Would You Feel?
I trust that this scenario has never happened to you. You would be livid!
Sure, there is truth in all that this hypothetical doctor said. But you didn’t come to the doctor for a lecture, a discussion on social policies, or suggestions. You came expecting the doctor to just do something. You came to get your child fixed up!
But it’s funny (#sarcasm) that we treat poverty the same way. We come up with a list of excuses and questions that keep us from getting involved:
- “The poor should just get a job and stop expecting others to support them.”
- “I donate money to charity, and work at a soup kitchen once a year. I don’t need to do much more.”
- “I don’t know what to do. What if I do something wrong? I’m at a loss.”
- “Those kids in poverty are wild and disruptive. Their parents need to straighten them up.”
- “If we had better teachers (or a better education system), those kids could have a better chance.”
- “There should be more government and church programs to help the poor.”
- “Poverty is so widespread. Can I really make a difference?”
- “The government already spends too much. And our welfare system is a bureaucratic mess.”
(And not just poverty; we have the same concerns with education.)
Just Do Something
Just as in the case of the unhelpful doctor, there is some truth in each of these excuses. When you look at the big picture, poverty is overwhelming. No individual can solve the big issues of poverty and education.
But the individual can do something.
Yes, we can and should have discussions on this big topics, like what to do about shortfalls in our education system, and whether we should focus on poverty relief or development. I fight these tensions within my own brain all the time. (Do you know how annoying that gets?)
On one hand, we don’t need to give incessant handouts, which foster paternalism. But on the other hand, how can we just let a little child go hungry? On one hand, we disagree with much going on in public schools; on the other hand, teachers and students need help.
There are no simple answers. But there are simple things you can do.
You can do something. You can donate your money, resources, and time (hint: if you want to have a long-term impact, focus on the latter). You can build a relationship with a child, by coaching, mentoring, teaching, tutoring, etc. You can love (and be loved by) someone from a different cultural background or socioeconomic class. You can do prison ministry.
You won’t be able to solve poverty. You can’t fix all the problems in education. But you can make a difference.
Just do something.
**image courtesy of Kurhan vias sxc.hu