Ron Haskins, Brookings Institute – Congressional Testimony, June 5, 2012
There are mothers in America who send their kids off for the day saying, “have a good day and make good choices.” Moms know choices have consequences. We all know that. It’s true for kids and even more so for adults. America is the land of the free. Every adult has the ability to do what they want and make the choices they desire. We have free will unless we break the law and land in jail. Everyone is free to make choices for their life, but freedom comes with a price and that price is that choices have consequences. Good choices help people progress, bad choices set people back.
Good choices help us gain “life skills” – skills necessary to acquire an education, work ethic and base morality. Such life skills are a prerequisite for people to get themselves out of poverty. But such life skills are often lost in the world of no parental involvement, extreme poverty and homelessness. That is a most unfortunate fact and tells us what we are up against, but doesn’t change the basic fact. If we want to give a hand up to folks to get out of poverty and gain their financial independence we are going to have to help them gain these traits. No matter their station, their history, or the unfairness of it all; they are going to have to get the life skills and we are going to have to help them make good decisions to get there. Otherwise they will never gain their financial independence and will always be in poverty. That is unacceptable.
Helping the poor make good choices and mitigate bad ones is something that few of our charities and even fewer of our government programs want to tackle. Why are we so fearful to address choices? Is it because we feel it is none of our business? If so we have to get over that - if we want to help people out of poverty it is going to have to be our business. Perhaps we fear we will be too judgmental or condemning. So let’s not do that. We must not confuse the bad choice and the good person. We have to call a spade a spade all the while never giving up on people. We have to work tirelessly for good decisions, praise them and celebrate them all the while never giving up on the individual during the bad ones.
That is hard work indeed. That is why most charities and government programs just hand out stuff and leave the choices to someone else to worry about. Which just goes to show that there are plenty of bad choices going around.