Posts Tagged ‘obstacles’

When Helping Hurts

January 19, 2010

Drive into any national park and you’ll see the signs – “Don’t feed the bears.” Scientists tell us that bears will quickly become dependent on human food, and while they are not particularly fond of humans they like the arrangement of free food.  And once dependent on that food they will attack the same providers if the supply disappears.

Congress is now considering extending unemployment benefits for the fifth time since this recession began.  In normal economic times workers could receive up to 26 weeks of benefits with the possibility of a 13-week extension.  With the added benefits added by President George W. Bush and now Barack Obama, jobless benefits can run as long as 99 weeks – nearly two years.

And here’s the challenging news – studies by University of Chicago economist Bruce Meyer and Harvard’s Lawrence Katz show that people are most likely to find a job just as their unemployment runs out – whether that’s 2 weeks, 26 weeks or 99 weeks.  The benefits – even if meager, appear to fuel the belief that this is a poor labor market, the economy is in the tank and no one is hiring.  And yet when the benefits are exhausted, a job magically appears.

Not having a job is not just a lack of money.  Not having a job very quickly becomes a psychological issue, unleashing humiliation, shame, vulnerability, hopelessness and entrapment.  Money that is not “earned” may exacerbate rather than alleviate these emotions.  The resulting low self-esteem cripples the boldness, confidence and enthusiasm required to come across as a desirable job candidate.

We’ve seen the crippling effects of welfare – becoming not a crisis relief but a way of life from one generation to the next.  We now have healthy, intelligent and capable young people who no longer anticipate hard work, struggle and the ultimate rewards of personal achievement but simply capitulate to the handouts of the government for housing and food.  And thus they drift into the ravages of perpetual low self-esteem, shame and the violence that accompany relationships unaccompanied by mutual respect.

Here’s another observation:  Yes, we are seeing people thrust into the ranks of the unemployed through no fault of their own.  People who are competent, reliable, faithful and talented are losing their jobs.  Yet for many of those, becoming “unemployed” simply served as a wake-up call for dormant dreams.  Check out and you’ll read the stories of hundreds of “accidental entrepreneurs.”  Others report they have found jobs that, for the first time, are allowing them to experience meaningful, purposeful and profitable work.

No parent, boss, pastor, missionary or politician wants to appear heartless.  But we must recognize that bears hunt effectively when they are not “given” food, teenagers get creative when the allowance stops, people move out of the destructive cycle of poverty when the handouts cease, and our best and most creative talents are often released under the gentle pressure of necessity.

”If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” ~Frank A. Clark

We all have obstacles

January 7, 2010

In the new Thomas Nelson book, Obstacles Welcome, author and CEO of AT&T Mobility Ralph de la Vega tells of his rise from a Cuban orphan to his position of business success.  The business principles of have clear goals, work hard, and treat your people well are valid but not new.

The potential uniqueness of the book would have been in telling how that transition from leaving his family in Cuba at 10 years old to become a business leader occurred.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, those details of his personal story are missing.

I’ve always been drawn to the Horatio Alger kinds of stories that reveal how a person rejected desperate circumstances to rise to greatness anyway.  Like the butterfly leaving the cocoon, challenging struggles often seem to release greatness in a way that a life of privilege never can.   

At this point in my life I am truly grateful for the times of having to rise at 5:30 AM to milk cows as a 5-yr-old boy.  Hey, I’m not asking for sympathy – rather, I suspect that environment increased my motivation to find work that was fulfilling, meaningful and profitable.  Be careful of always looking for the easy path — you may never push life into your butterfly wings.