Over 30 years until his death in 2013, Bob wasn’t interested in making life more comfortable for alcoholics, he wanted to tackle the difficult problem of helping them to change their lives. He trademarked the phase “a hand up, not a hand out”, which became the hallmark of his organization.
What is our goal for charity and welfare – “a hand up or a hand out?” It is the first question we have to ask ourselves. Who is it we are helping and what is it we are attempting to do? A person with severe disabilities may be in a situation that a “hand out” is perfectly appropriate. For those not capable of taking care of themselves we want to help and make their lives more comfortable. But for those that can help themselves it is a much tougher question.
Perhaps it is answered in the well-known saying regarding charity “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That seems so self-evident; surely it is our goal, our mantra. In fact, we have coined the term “safety net” to describe our charities and welfare programs . That implies it catches us, saves us and we can eventually return to independent living and enjoy economic freedom. But today our welfare programs are generally just hand-outs; they add comfort but do little to sponsor change. See more information on the Safety Net Programs Page and the Welfare Issues Page.
In Bob Cote’s world he had no choice. He knew from personal experience that anything supplied to a chronic alcoholic just enabled the problem. Give them money and they spent it on booze. Give them food and they had more resources for booze. Give them food and housing and you were “killing them on the instalment plan”. Bob was the one who said “real change, not spare change”.
Bob insisted that you give up drinking when you came to Step 13 and he would test often to make sure it was true. Then he would provide the “hand-up”; a place to live, three meals a day, job training, etc., but not until then. He had a program for his clients to bring them back to functioning lives by steadily adding work responsibilities. The first job was making coffee in the morning and the responsibilities grew from there. As long as a man continued to progress, Bob continued to help. But stop working and Bob gave his aid to the next guy. It was the toughest of love and in the end it saved thousands.
Bob knew the easy way out for his clients was another drink and one after that. We can fall into a trap when we allow comfort and ease to be the result of our giving to those capable of doing more. Education, hard work, good decisions, and growth are what we ultimately hope to promote. There is nothing comfortable or easy about such pursuits. Bob understood that and was the master of tough love. Our welfare programs and many of our charities could use a big dose of that.