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August 9, 1996 Halifax Herald

Downtrodden need compassion, not condemnation

Unfortunately, a tendency is developing within our society to blame the downtrodden for their plight. To hear the fortunate, such as Premier Mike Harris of Ontario discuss them, one would swear that the unfortunate are, by choice, the architects of their own misfortune. Along this line, I recently heard a man state that the sole purpose in life of those on welfare was to enjoy a free ride by ripping off the system. How absurd and inaccurate.

I'll make a comment later supporting the downtrodden, but first a short rehash of an incident which happened while I was visiting a Kentville tavern about 18 years ago:

Entering, I discovered that the place was filled to near capacity; however, I saw setting at a small table, alone, was a huge man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties. I approached and enquired if he cared for company; he quickly agreed. I soon discovered he was no ivy school graduate; his conversation was elementary, but it pictured a love of life that warmed one's heart.

It turned out he was a farm hand who, with wife and several children, lived rent-free in a home owned by his employer. His pay was not enough to provide for exotic family vacations, but it was enough, along with free rent and farm produce provided by the farmer, to keep his family well fed, warmly clothed and housed, and modestly entertained. Because of this, he told me he was a very fortunate man and that he was grateful to God for his good fortune. He had everything one could want in life - a happy, loving family; a generous employer; lots of friends; and satisfaction with his role in life. It sounded ideal to me.

Then a prosperous-looking man approached and requested permission to join us. My friend asked if I'd mind; although sensing the man was a pompous ass, I said no.

After seating himself, the newcomer intruded into our pleasant conversation by informing us that he was employed with a large oil company as a highly paid engineer. Then he asked what we did for a living. I replied I was a federal employee, to which he responded: "Itís a worthy vocation." My table companion volunteered that he was a farm hand. At this revelation, the engineer began a tirade about people such as the farm hand, who were satisfied to live in what he classified as poverty - having no ambition to improve themselves. The large, well-muscled, good-natured farmhand, a non-violent person, reacted with embarrassed silence.

Because of the nature of my vocation, the engineer presumed I would be supportive of his position. When finished pontificating, smirking, he turned to me for a supportive comment. My response:

"When I left my hotel room this evening I didn't anticipate a situation where I would be having a few drinks with company consisting of a gentleman and a jackass." Then, with poorly disguised anger, I informed the engineer that, to me, he represented the epitome of educated ignorance and stupidity.

How dare he sit there and pompously lecture a fine gentleman, who was contented with his lot in life, about the benefits of blind and selfish ambition. Didn't he know that the dedicated labours of the man sitting with us, along with the labours of millions of like mined individuals, - whose efforts filled beer glasses, provided food, clothing and so on - were the reasons why people occupying cushy jobs, such as he, could enjoy the so-called good life?

I added that one didn't have to be a genius to be aware that having money wasn't much when it couldn't buy anything except give a person, because he has some, a notion he is superior to a person with less. For example, compare his station in life with that of the farm hand who, with fewer material things, was contented; while he, the monied one, was selfishly searching for more. The engineer, not finding a partisan, soon took his leave.

Unemployment and partial employment are playing havoc with the lives of millions of citizens. Approximately 10 percent out of every million workers (100,000) are jobless. Making matters worse, probably one-third of those employed are employed in low-paying or part-time positions which at best, permit them a means to subsist.

Thankfully, there are many employers, such as the farmer mentioned, who are keeping the unemployed ranks from swelling dramatically by their compassionate generosity. However, there is a limit to what they can do. In view of this fact, instead of degrading and harassing the unemployed by making assistance meaner, governments must forthwith find the wherewithal to resolve the country's dehumanizing unemployment problem.

In the meantime, the fortunate must show compassion and understanding, not intolerance, for the plight of the unemployed. Sure, there are those among them who can be classified as professional free-loaders. However, the overwhelming majority of these unfortunates are honest, hard-working people. The reason they are idle is simple: They can't find work!

Those among the employed who are inclined to callously condemn them, because of their need to collect public assistance for survival, should keep this in mind. With the employment and fiscal situation being what they are today, you, the condemner, could easily find yourself among those you are now condemning!

Daniel N. Paul

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