There has been a lot of talk lately about income inequality and stagnant wages for workers and a shrinking middle class and more people living in poverty than we have experienced in some time. Concerns which I think are important to take seriously. And wrapped up in the discussion of wages and minimum wage is the discussion of why people are poor.
Are they lazy?
Are they not willing to take responsibility for their own lives?
Are they single parents?
Do they come from single parent households?
Have they become dependent on welfare or on handouts from others?
The public discussion around these issues lacks depth and is doled out in sound bites and avoids the complicated and challenging interplay between personal responsibility and community/social support. In a conversation this past week about the headlines in the news, the concern about single parent households was brought up. I asked the person with whom I was speaking what had kept her marriage together.
The example of their parents.
The hard work they decided to do.
The support of community, church, friends.
I know it doesn’t always happen that way.
Even with the best intentions and the hard work and community and family support sometimes relationships fall apart, but her answered mirrored my thoughts about my own marriage.
Research over the last 30-40 years has documented the rise of individualism in our culture and the decline of those institutions and informal structures which held communities together. There is much to lament about that and I think we are paying the price, but unlike some the answer is not to go back. While there was good in those structures, there was also bad. Because of social norms woman suffered in silence and isolation in abusive relationships which needed to be named for what they were. Those of us who care deeply about community and the communities in which we live need to reframe the debate in more helpful, holistic terms and call out those on either end of the political or social spectrum who frame an important and complicated issue in simplistic terms.