Friday, June 26, 2009


“I worked hard to get where I am and nobody helped me. Everyone else had the same opportunities I did.”

This phrase generally precedes an angry tirade about people too lazy to work or with wasteful spending habits that keep them from buying health insurance or enough food. Both sentences are wrong in most cases.

Our Constitution makes us equal under the law, in theory, but none of us start out with on a level playing field and nobody succeeds without help from others. The disparity starts at birth.

Who our parents are determines how intelligent we are, whether or not we get proper nutrition and whether or not we are likely to get an education. A person with an IQ of 80 and another with an IQ of 120 definitely don’t start on equal footing.

Neither do those who suffer from physical or psychological disabilities start out with the same advantages as those of us who are born with good physical and mental health. For the most part, it’s nothing more than the luck of the genetic dice whether we are born healthy.

I know many successful people who take great pride in saying, “I worked my way through college without any help from anyone.” A college education is something in which a person should take pride, but there’s a difference between working to survive while going to school and working for recreation money.

Add this thought to your social equation: Not everyone is capable of learning at a college or even a high school level.

As pleasing as it sounds to say we are “self-made,” none of us really are. There are always people who ease our way in life, even if it’s just an employer who worked with us so we could attend classes or a teacher who saw something in us and cut us a break in a subject where we were weak.

Loving parents, who worked hard and taught us values, even if they had little money, gave us a head start and are something for which we all should be thankful. Not all parents are that way.

Someone at the Interfaith clinic told me about a 10-year-old girl who was failing classes and considered slow. Before they found the Interfaith Clinic, her parents -- who both worked at minimum wage jobs that offered no health insurance -- took her to the emergency room with periodic sinus infections. There was no follow-up, of course.

Doctors at Knoxville's Interfaith Clinic found that she couldn’t sleep because of chronic sinus difficulties that woke her up through the night. They also found out that her vision was impaired and she couldn’t even read the blackboard.

A new pair of glasses and a few cents worth of medicine for the sinus problems sent her to the top of her class in no time. She wasn’t slow, she was very bright, but until she received proper medical care, nobody knew it.

Some people find it all too easy to blame the poor for their lot in life. It’s the best salve for a guilty conscience. But the poor also have children and their children are no more to blame for their condition than children of the prosperous.

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