Chapter Nine: Service with Dignity

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(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)

Theme: Attentive listening communicates worth; legitimate employment gives meaning to life; community gives a sense of belonging – all three enhance human dignity.

This chapter revolves around the anecdote of Lupton’s neighbor Virgil. Virgil was grateful to the Habitat people who built the house he was able to own and live in, yet he felt irritated every time he saw all those volunteers come to help out in the neighborhood. The unrealized sense of superiority the people felt, the things they said, just rubbed him the wrong way. Lupton asked what they should do? Should they ask the people not to come? No, said Virgil, they should come. He realized the good they did. But it wasn’t until then that Lupton realized what the charity received by Virgil had cost in Virgil’s dignity.

They tried sensitivity training for the volunteers, but what resulted was a change from free conversations between volunteers and residents turning stilted and uneasy, afraid to offend, unable to develop relationships.

Finally, the solution was made for the neighborhood to get together, discuss what receiving the help would cost, and then letting them do the inviting, knowing and being willing to accept the unintended slights – on the way to developing relationship where each side could get to know each other.

There are two particular items mentioned in Virgil’s story that I wanted to comment on.  The first was Virgil’s complaint about people complimenting his wife on how neat her house was – which he took as a racist slur meaning they were surprised it wasn’t full of cockroaches like they expected all black houses to be. My wife felt Virgil’s assumptions themselves were racist. If she complimented someone on their clean house, it would be in comparison to how clean she keeps her house, nothing to do with race. I guess this shows it is possible for these assumptions to be made on both sides.

The second comment by Virgil was the below quote:  “Blacks know a lot more about whites than whites know about blacks – that’s survival.” If that is true it is probably in the same way in which conservatives know a lot more about liberals than liberals do about conservatives.  Both areas would be interesting places for additional research – if people could get past their biases to do the research.

At the end of this chapter Lupton talks about young, and not so young, couples moving into neighborhoods, as volunteers to become strategic neighbors. This idea is different from the “gentrification” of neighborhoods, where richer people come in and upgrade neighborhoods and force the poor out. For these strategic neighbors Lupton offers this advice: Initiate nothing for at least six months. Instead listen, learn, and then act as part of the community.

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