Safe At Home? Be Grateful


I did a fair bit of driving this weekend. Saturday it was the trip from Lindsay to Toronto and home again, then Sunday the drive from Lindsay to Mississauga and back again. As I made the final turn onto our Crescent both evenings, the Christmas lights on the front lawn and house itself brought me a measure of both happiness and relief; we were home.

Home is sanctuary; the place with which within I am calm, protected and at peace. It’s where I recharge, relax, settle back with a blanket and at this time of year, enjoy the festive decorations, the Christmas tree, and perhaps a cup of tea. Yes, every time I make that last turn in the road and ascend the hill to our home, the promise of such sanctuary awaits me.

I imagine many of you might have similar feelings as you travel home from both near and far, whether it’s a house, condominium or apartment you return to. Once inside, it’s your space; your private sanctuary from everything beyond your door.

Of course it’s not the case for everyone. I can’t truly imagine what it must be like to live without that promise of a safe and secure place to take my rest at the end of a day. When temperatures outside are below zero degrees Celsius, not only does being homeless rob a person of much of their physical energy, it has to be incredibly taxing on the mind to constantly have to focus on finding a place to spend the night. Can you picture having to spend much of your day scrounging for shelter and then when you wake up the following day from a restless sleep, you have to move on and repeat the same process; wondering again where your head will rest that night?

Now were it you or I, we likely believe we wouldn’t be in such a predicament long. We’d likely use our resources acquired over time, including our interpersonal skills to locate and secure some place of safety and warmth. We’d turn quickly to finding work, then use our earned money to rent a place and begin to improve our lot.

The difference I suppose though is were we truly homeless, the mind that we rely and trust to make good decisions each day would be adversely affected. The mental strain upon us is not something I believe we would be prepared for. The lack of a place to shower and clean ourselves would be an eye opener, then even if we had such a basic resource, how upset would we be putting on the same garments, unwashed themselves and thus carry with us the grime, the odour? Without money, how would we feed ourselves? How might the quality of the food we do consume when we find it differ from what we eat now?

You and I, we not be rich, but we are rich by comparison. We can not only close our doors to the world each night, we sleep in comfortable beds, we eat without having to guard our plates; when thirsty we find options in our fridges. We don clean clothes each day, we snuggle in against the bitter cold, raise a thermostat if we so choose. Lucky? Well, yes I suppose we are.

Now yes, we do make our own luck I’ll affirm, but what we make our luck with is an educated mind. We have had resources our entire lives some never will have. If you grew up with a mother and father, lived in a house, had three meals a day and went to school, you likely took much of that for granted. As a child,  perhaps this is how you believed we all started out. Not so. If you’ve never had to visit a foodbank other than to drop off a donation, or never had to leave some items at the checkout because you haven’t got enough money to pay for them, you’re lucky indeed.

The nights are dark and cold, the daylight shorter at this time of year in my part of the world where winter is upon us. The streets are often slushy, which makes it trickier to walk for some in heels and harder still to push those shopping carts and buggies with worldly possessions in them for others.

If you think the simple solution is to get a job and be self-supporting, think of what herculean effort that must take. A homeless person has to concentrate on where to sleep, where to eat. They have few items to improve their personal hygiene and fewer to clean and maintain the cleanliness of their clothes. They are often shunned for their appearance, their smell, their cleanliness and much of the time lack personal identification such as birth certificates, health cards and social insurance numbers.

Luxuries are things like haircuts, dental visits, prescription glasses, non-processed foods, undamaged fruits and vegetables. Families are typically dysfunctional, relationships hard to establish and harder still to maintain. Without an address, services are hard to get, being always on the move, they have no sanctuary at the close of a day, sleeping with one eye open out of fear until absolutely exhausted.

Enjoy your home as do I, but be benevolent when you can. Consider a donation, be it a used article of warmth, food, toiletries, or your time. Be grateful, be humble.

Should We Spread Our Joy?


Let me just get my answer out there. OF COURSE!

Sometimes I meet people who are traditionally happy and joyous throughout the year, but who, for reasons of not wanting to upset other people, suddenly downplay their natural positivity in the month of December. As I say, these are the kind of people who are naturally upbeat, positive and happy. Having empathy for others who may not be going through the best of times around December, and Christmas in particular, they go against their nature and act subdued.

I believe there’s another line of thinking which justifies sharing our own happiness and joy with whomever we interact. This is the act of being true to ourselves, and if that means our actions, words, tone of voice, smiling faces and overall positivity is in stark contrast to some others, it can have a startling affect.

For starters, being positive can uplift people. After all, do you want to be around people who are gloomy, sullen and suck energy or would you rather choose to be around people who energize you, make you smile,  bring you happiness just by being in their midst? These are the very people Scrooge once said, “…should be boiled in his own Christmas pudding”; the ones who go around wishing everyone a merry Christmas.

Now I’ve also heard the argument that because unemployed and impoverished people are affected so greatly by the season, which often accentuates their feelings of want and need, we should scale back on spreading our personal joy. Well, again, I disagree. I’m not insensitive, it’s just that being impoverished or out of work doesn’t automatically mean a person must go around looking down. In fact, some of the happiest and most positive people I’ve met live in poverty. They aren’t happy about their financial status of course, but they’ve realized that their financial status is only one part of their lives. There are many other facets of their lives which bring them joy. Why allow this one area to dominate who they are and how they view themselves? They choose happiness and positivity.

Yes, I’d rather be known as a fellow who wears a smile, stays positive and is good to be around than the opposite. Of course yes, one has to exercise some good judgement here too. When someone is talking about their bleak situation and out of politeness asks how I’m doing, I wouldn’t go over the top telling them about plans to have some big extravagant party to celebrate the season or how my investments were tripling my income. (They aren’t by the way; oh to be so lucky!)

No, I’d exercise some decorum; show some restraint in what to share, but I’d still have a smile on my face and tell them in answer to their question that I was just fine and thank them for asking.

The second argument I make for being positive, happy and merry is that it reminds people of what is possible when they may have forgotten. Don’t assume this is a given. Sometimes when we lose what we once had, we all need reminding of it’s value and in the case of happiness, merriment and positivity, they can all come again; for everyone.

When I’ve worked Christmas eve at work, those making the choice to drop in to our employment resource centre are typically either in for solace and sanctuary or to wish us the greetings of the season; a very merry Christmas. If they can do so, I certainly will wish them nothing but the same; that they too find merriment and happiness both then and the year ’round. Sometimes we’ve sat down not as clients and staff, but as people – (a rather significant distinction) and shared a drink, a bite or two and some laughs.

Being poor doesn’t mean one must by association be of any one mood. You’ll find sadness, regret, joy and happiness, neutrality and the entire gambit of emotions. Why? Why precisely because the opposite is true. Among the wealthy you won’t universally find decadence, happiness, positivity and an entire void of stress. It isn’t money that brings happiness; it’s within us to be what we choose to be – that which makes us feel as we choose.

I will continue to positive, be happy and be joyous. Don’t think me insensitive, don’t attempt to shame me into being anything I’m genuinely not. My smile is there for anyone that chooses to see it as an outward expression of my state of mind. I also find that a smile on one face tends to bring one out on another. The opposite is also true by the way..

So do I wish you a merry Christmas on this fourth of December? Do I hope you have the best day possible? Do I trust you find happiness this day and each other day? YES!

By the way, ever been served by someone in the course of conducting some business who is robotic? You know, they do their job but there’s no human emotion, no smile, no genuine appreciation for your business. Have you not thought to yourself, “It wouldn’t hurt you to smile a little?” Ah, you have? Then you understand entirely and you get it. Good for you.

Be that beacon of happiness, that one person who goes about their work with a smile and is genuinely appreciative of others. It will work wonders for your mental health.

An Unfair Playing Field


“You can be whoever you want to be.”

If you heard these words from your parents in your childhood, it’s probable you were born into an upper middle class family.

“Don’t try and be better than your own.”

If you heard these words from your parent in your childhood, it’s probable you were born into a lower class family; possibly even one in poverty.

Parents in both were doing what they believed was correct; preparing their child for life ahead. How they did this was either by laying the world before their child and encouraging them to dream and then follow that dream, or to keep their head out of the clouds and prepare for a predictable life of work ahead.

The reality for many of the poor is a different value system than those in both the middle and upper classes. While there will always be the odd exception; that child who aspires for more and finds an inner determination to climb the social classes, the majority face what often turns out to be insurmountable struggles. Education for example, highly valued by those who can afford it, is often a precursor to success. For children growing up in poverty, they may have families who frown on education as unnecessary; many of the parents themselves poorly educated and as a result, not in a position to assist with or encourage home study time.

It’s a sorrowful reality of course. Well, to be fair, it’s sad for many in the middle class who work with and support those in poverty. As an example, we might take our own values and beliefs – writing a cover letter and error-free resume as a given. We’d take steps to ensure our applications were proofread, our sentences grammatically correct and the content precise. Many living in poverty would be more inclined to try and get a job by meeting someone and asking for it directly; no resume, certainly not a cover letter. Where a resume is required, it would be of an inferior quality; spelling errors, blunt and repetitive, a single word or two for a bullet, scant in content and length.

This is no knock against the poor, more an observation of reality. It’s a tough life when you think about growing up to be an adult in a world of digital technology and social media when you haven’t got a high school education, you lack basic computer skills, your literacy level is low and more doors are closed than open.  How sad it is that young children start off in life with such roadblocks to success already set in place.

When working to support the impoverished, it’s vitally important to be aware of our own value system and check frequently to ensure we don’t transfer our hopes and expectations onto others. While we might believe we can be whomever we choose; that hard work and persistence will pay off with success, it’s not the case for all. Think about how daunting it must feel for someone living with literacy issues, a skewed view of higher education and to read over and over again that a high school diploma (not to mention a College Diploma or University Degree) is required for many of the jobs they find. Completing high school and graduating with a diploma is like someone in the middle class graduating with a degree or getting their Masters.

One of the best ways to fire the brain at an early age and open a child to language is reading to them as their parent. It’s great bonding time for parent and child as a bonus, and it sends the message that reading has value. Regular, daily reading time stimulates the imagination, each word sounded out and pronounced correctly creates confidence and builds self-esteem. However, a parent who finds reading difficult themselves isn’t likely to showcase their personal weakness to their child, and may either tell them to read to themselves or actually discourage reading altogether as something of little value. “I never needed it and you don’t neither.”

Each day I work with those in receipt of social assistance, I find many have literacy issues. This manifests itself in the words they use in conversation, their inability to spell common words, sometimes their comprehension and as a result their ability to learn and put into practice what they hear.

Here’s the thing though…these same people are some of the most generous, giving people. They are truly inspiring and while their hope is fragile, many show a determination to be better than they are and for their children to have better lives than they have. Hire some of these people and you get paid back with great employees. Not always of course; sometimes their going to make poor choices – but again, likely because they lack good decision-making skills and haven’t had encouragement and supportive coaching.

They have incredible barriers to success to push through however. Having had poor parenting themselves, often having grown up in single-parent families, they don’t have the knowledge or skills to build on many of us take for granted.

Looking for work is difficult because they aren’t on a level playing field. Many of the advantages we have in middle/upper classes we take for granted; not even recognizing or appreciating them.

Want to help? Be kind, understanding, empathetic, maybe forgiving and always courteous. Give someone a chance, perhaps a second chance.

Hey Google! Hey Micosoft! A Fix Please


Last week I discovered that Google and Microsoft have changed their requirements for creating an email address. They now insist on a user to include their phone number or a secondary email address. So if you have no other email to add and cannot afford the luxury of a cell phone, you effectively cannot create an email. In short, Google and Microsoft would appear to be excluding the poor from communicating digitally in 2019.

As an Employment Counsellor working with those in receipt of social assistance, I find myself instructing 12 recipients in the basics of computers. One of the key reasons we include such a course where I work is to empower these people with email so they can communicate for both pleasure and professionally. As most of you know, employer’s are insisting potential applicants apply online for the jobs they need to fill, thus learning to use the computer to construct resumes and apply online is critically important.

So imagine my surprise when I had all 12 create a professional address and we couldn’t circumnavigate the phone number requirement. I mean yes, I could have had them put in my work email, but then I’d either have to be the one to get verification emails moving forward on their behalf, or then show them how to change the email to a secondary one later on, overly complicating what should be a simple process.

Listen up Google; listen up Microsoft: not all the poor can afford cell phones. Your new policies are effectively denying them access to what is now a basic communication tool. I’m hoping your intent was good and just not well thought out.

This weekend I felt it ironic as I googled, ‘make an email without a phone’. The solution it gave me was to use Google Chrome and go incognito mode (this is great for those experiencing paranoia by the way) then bypass the phone field and lie about one’s age making the person under 15 years old. Apparently the big boys assume 15 and under users don’t have their own cell phones. Today all the people in my class are going to revert back to being young teens. But should we have to do this?

Now of course I’ll have to tell the people I’m teaching that in order to recover any lost email access, they’ll have to remember this fictitious date of birth too. When they write down their password and email, now they’ll also need to record their made up date of birth. I think algorithms are going to be skewed in the future when more and more people say they were born on January 1 2006. Hey, am I becoming a hacker? No, not in the sense I’m trying to sabotage a system. I’m just trying to work around a problem; a problem that shouldn’t exist.

So Microsoft and Google, I’m hoping my readers pass on my blog today to their own audiences until it reaches your attention and you address this problem of your making.

I’m open to being wrong on this one too. As I stood in the classroom with 12 people looking at me as the computer instructor – oh and with a College placement student equally lost and frustrated at trying to get a workaround on the spot, maybe I missed something. I didn’t though. The phone field is mandatory unless you have a secondary email. Someone learning how to use the computer for the first time who taps the keys with one finger and takes an introduction to computers class just doesn’t have a secondary email though.

So, on behalf of the poor, I’m advocating for you two as leaders in the tech world to get it right. Which one of you – Google or Microsoft – will amend it first and get it right?

Those living in poverty often can’t afford cell phone plans on top of paying rent, buying food and getting around. Those that do have phones often have no time on their phones or very little on their data plans. Most don’t have personal computers or laptops and those that do often can’t afford the internet. So they resort to libraries, community resource centres and the generosity of friends when they do go online.

To reach financial independence and break free of poverty, they need jobs. To get a job, one must apply online, do internet research, attach a resume to an email; you get the point. This digital world we live in has to include everyone. Most of us who are computer literate don’t fully appreciate how fortunate we are to have these basic skills. We take for granted the ability to go online, email and have conversations with distant family and friends.

Like I said, educate me and inform me of my misinterpretation of your phone/previous email requirements. How does one without either actually create an email and join in on the digital world?

This isn’t about me shaming anyone, but it is about calling you out on this practice and asking you politely to be accountable. LOVE to get not just an explanation of your motives, but rather a drop in the mandatory phone field. Get back to making it optional.

Until resolved, there’s going to be a lot of 15 year old and younger new users, suddenly exploding onto the digital world.

The impoverished already feel marginalized and excluded, and Google and Microsoft…for all your billions of dollars, you’re both better than that.

Me Vote? Why Bother? Nobody Cares What I Think


You guessed it, there’s an election looming in the province where I live here in Ontario. It’s tomorrow actually, Thursday June 7th, and the stake couldn’t be hire. That’s hire; h-i-r-e in this case not, ‘higher’ which would be grammatically correct in almost any other sentence. Why? Simply put, your job could be on the line.

Now if you’re unemployed and have no job to lose, don’t feel smug and protected; you could be looking at a longer unemployed status, higher hydro bills and gas bills and a higher debt level for the province meaning you and your children will be paying higher taxes for years to come. Yep, this one is all about, ‘higher’ and ‘hire’.

But hey, you’re just one person with one vote. That single vote will likely be nullified and useless when the next person in line steps up and votes for another candidate – so what’s the point? Not only that, but suppose you haven’t got a clue what the issues are, who stands for what, where to vote or even how to go about it. Why, you might even feel that nobody cares what you or others in your age bracket or social class think anyway so you just don’t care; and it takes time out of your busy day too. Hold on there, sure these are reasons not to vote.

Well, no matter where you live in the world, I agree these could sum up the situation where you live when a vote comes around, be it a national or local election. Oh wait, that’s not true is it? No, I took for granted for a second there that everybody in the world has the right to vote and that’s not the fact. There are after all many countries in the world that aren’t democracies, where the people haven’t won the right to make that little ‘x’ beside the name of the person they’d most like to represent them in a position of power.

Now, yes, you might feel nobody knows you or others in your situation, and they don’t care to either. Let’s assume for a second you’re right. You could choose not to vote and perpetuate their lack of interest in making your livelihood better. On the other hand, suppose you and a lot of other people just like you DID get out and vote. Nothing might happen in this election, but voting numbers and WHO voted does catch the eye of politicians. Suddenly they would take an interest because it would be in THEIR interests to take an interest in you. You can bet that in the next election you’d hear them pleading for your vote and to get it they’d be both listening and putting the things in their platforms that you’d want for yourself. Don’t vote though and they spend their time dangling money and better living conditions for others.

Okay so even if you did decide to vote, you don’t know the issues? At one time, neither did I. Sure you can turn on a radio, listen to the news and find out a little day by day, but the election is tomorrow! I went online and typed the following into Bing, my favourite search engine of choice: ‘Ontario Provincial Election Issues 2018’. The first link that popped up gave me a breakdown of each parties position on the same issues. This took all of 3.7 seconds. Reading it and forming an opinion of what would be in my best interests and that of my family took about 10 minutes. Voting itself is at a neighbourhood school and it will take about 15 minutes to get there, vote and get home; unless of course we stop and socialize with some of our neighbours who pop by at the same time. Less than half an hour to get educated and vote. Hold that up against 4 years of the wrong party in power and it’s not an inconvenience.

So imagine if you will that a large number of people in poverty or young adults barely old enough to vote suddenly did so. These are two groups who typically get ignored by politicians because they don’t vote anyhow. You can bet the smart politicians – and there’s an oxymoron for you – would want to get your vote. They’d be holding town halls, visiting schools in greater numbers, improving social housing units, making transportation cheaper, eliminating some things you pay for now, and they’d make your future prospects better. They claim to do these things now in some cases, but often these are the first things to go when the money is tight and they get in power. That wouldn’t happen if the electorate threatened to vote them out. You see they get hungry to stay in power once there.

So look at who is bringing jobs to your neighbourhood. Who has money for training? Who will raise your wages or your quality of life? Who will shut down your industry and force you out of a job with their plans? In short, who will hurt or help you.

Vote or don’t at your discretion of course, but I hope you choose to. However, if you don’t, you should at least know what you’re passing up and be ready to live with the results for good or bad whatever they turn out to be. In fact, your present situation is largely shaped by your decision NOT to vote in the past.

So You Want To Help People?


The majority of people I come into contact with professionally have as one common denominator, the lack of employment. Those that do have a job are almost always dissatisfied with the one they have at the moment and are looking to find another; one that will ultimately bring they greater happiness, be more of a challenge, stimulate some new skills, increase their financial health etc.

As an Employment Counsellor therefore, I find myself working with others when they are often vulnerable and emotionally fragile. Sometimes the good skills and strengths they have are obscured, not immediately obvious, and this isn’t because the person is consciously trying to hide them, but rather because they have come to doubt those strengths.

In asking someone to both show and share their good qualities, strengths and that which they take pride in, it can be a very intimate discussion. While a person who has only recently become unemployed has much of their confidence and self-awareness intact, someone experiencing prolonged unemployment may feel very little to be proud of. In fact, there are some who, while looking ‘normal’ on the outside, are walking around feeling they are completely devoid of anything of any value. Sad to say, they cannot think of anything whatsoever they like about themselves, they have no faith that anyone would ever choose to hire them, and this isn’t modesty in the extreme, it’s a void of identity.

So imagine you’ve come to find yourself as such a person. You honestly see nothing in yourself that would be attractive to a perspective employer. Skills, mental health, self-confidence, experience, education, attitude all empty and wanting; doubt, lack of self-worth, zero energy, high vulnerability all in great supply. Now you hear others advising you to market yourself to employers, to ‘fake it ’til you make it’, and you just feel so much more out of sorts and incapable. You’re literally incapable and immobile. There’s no way you can do that; you can’t even imagine yourself for a second ever being what your being asked to be. The interview therefore is a non-starter. There’s just no way you can perceive self-marketing yourself and being the first choice of any employer over others.

Let’s not delude ourselves here; helping and supporting such people is no small undertaking and it’s going to take a significant amount of time to aid such a person as they rebuild their self-image. Incapacitated is how they feel, not belligerent nor unwilling, just not physically or mentally capable of doing anything in the beginning to get going.

Can you also imagine therefore in such a picture which I’m trying to create for you, that such a person is going to have many setbacks? Sure they are. There will be many false starts; where they agree to try something you’ve suggested and fail. Where they lack the skills you and I might assume they have to circumnavigate even the simplest of barriers. Good intentions get them going, but without support they fail to move ahead. In fact, small setbacks become magnified in their eyes and thinking; more reasons to feel a failure.

A real danger is to look from the outside at such a person and judge them to be lazy, improperly motivated, unwilling to move ahead, happy to stay where they are and heaven forbid – not worth the effort. These are people who are susceptible to scams, vulnerable to being misled, easily taken advantage of – largely because they have come to look for others to tell them what to do and take care of them, and as such they are often abused financially, emotionally; and each abuse makes their distrust of someone with the best of intentions all the more real.

Wow! Helping such a person seems to get harder and harder with every paragraph I write. Think of the investment of time, effort and with such a high probability of failure, are you up for the challenge? After all, why not turn your attention to helping other people who have higher probabilities of success? That would seem so much easier!

I tell you this; there is immense self-satisfaction in working with people who are so innately vulnerable. Seeing the good in people; not for what they might become but for who they are at the moment – this is often extremely challenging but so worthwhile. It’s like saying, “Until you have the ability to believe in yourself, accept that I see much of value in you; that I believe in you.” Sending that kind of message, that this person is deserving of your attention and your time is something to start with.

You might not of course have what it takes to help such people. This doesn’t make you a bad person or flawed in any way. It just means your wish to help people lies in other areas, helping in other ways with other issues. You’ll make mistakes as you go and that’s to be expected and natural. You’ll make mistakes after years of service too, and you’ll always keep learning from those you work with who are unique from every other person you meet. You’ll never get so good you’re perfect for everybody you meet.

It’s been said that Hope is the last thing one has to lose; that when all Hope is gone, there’s nothing left. Now what if in their eyes, you represent that final Hope?

Gratitude For That Which We Receive


How grateful are you for the things you receive and I believe more importantly, the people you interact with that put them into your hands? Here’s a brief tale of two men with whom I had a short interaction with yesterday; both of whom reminded me to be grateful to others but for different reasons.

I found myself covering the mid-morning break of a colleague in our drop-in Employment Resource Centre; a place exclusively reserved for those in receipt of social assistance; welfare or disability support. Here those in receipt of either can come in and either work independently or receive support for the asking with respect to looking for housing, jobs, general advice, community resources or maybe just have someone listen. For some it’s their outing of the day; time to be surrounded by others and connect.

At the start of the day I had gathered a number of winter clothing items such as scarves, hats, gloves, throws and socks; all new and newly arrived. I brought them there for my colleagues to get into the hands of those that need them – free for the asking and the taking. So there I was when one gentleman approached me and asked if he might be allowed to have a pair of socks.

“Absolutely” I replied. The fellow was grateful, expressed his thanks and said that these made his day. There were two pair actually in the bundle and being winter socks for the outdoors, they are thick, warm and the kind I myself wouldn’t mind finding under my own tree this Christmas. It struck me how much happiness he visibly showed on his face; again the gratitude he expressed and the words, “Thank you”.

As he was standing there before me, there was a second fellow within earshot of this brief conversation and I suspected that a similar transaction was about to occur. Sure enough, when the first man turned and left, the second stepped up.

“I’ll have a pair of socks. What else you got?” Quite a different tone in the voice, a change in approach from a request and gratefulness to a statement of fact and entitlement. Now less you feel I’m being judgemental and that I don’t understand or know the second man’s background, upbringing or the harshness he experiences day to day, I’ve worked long enough in the field to comprehend and ‘get’ that at both an intellectual and experiential level.

What I’m sharing is the two approaches and the impact of both on me as the common denominator; the receiver of both their messages. While my reaction may not be your reaction, the approach they each made is what I draw your attention to.

When I gave the second man the new socks he put moved them from the outstretched hand to the other and then extended his hand a second time waiting to receive more. In response to his question about what other items I had available, I asked him what he needed pointing out gloves, hats,  throws and scarves. I then asked, “Would you like a scarf?” “Give me gloves” he answered.

So I gave him a pair of gloves which he tried on and I asked if they fit him okay or whether he needed a larger size. The next words he answered were, “Got any hoodies or shirts?” Now I didn’t have either item he asked for and after saying so he took one final look and walked out of the building without another word. No thanks whatsoever.

Now you make what you want from this encounter and contrast it as you wish or not with the earlier one just moments before with the first fellow. You nor I know the circumstances which these two gentlemen exist in. We don’t know their past upbringing, how easy or tough their lives have been to this point. We don’t know if they learned about please and thank you, and we certainly don’t know… well…we just don’t have much information to go on beyond the information I’ve shared.

The items don’t come with strings attached; there is no requirement to say thank you. At other times when I’m in the area myself for the day, I typically put a few items at a time out for people to hep themselves; most do turn and ask just the same if they can help themselves and say then say thank you, others don’t.

I was raised to say please, to ask before taking and to express my thanks when I received something. I know that this is largely why I was struck with the difference in the two encounters. The need may be exactly the same for each fellow, or even greater for the second. Does it matter?

If you donate new items to those less fortunate, I’d like you to know that whether they say it or not, your generosity matters; goods end up in the hands of those that need them. They are glad to have them when the biting winds blow and the temperatures drop and gratitude may not hit them until they are huddled up against a wall up against a howling wind on a dark winter’s eve.

Maybe there’s a lesson here for me and for you to show our own gratitude in those we deal with be it Cashiers, the Newspaper Carrier etc. See if it doesn’t make a difference.

Poverty And Parenthood


Many of the people I assist looking for employment have children and of those who do, almost all tell me how much those children mean to them. Most of the time they say, “My kids are everything” or “My kids are number one.”

What’s at the heart of why they are telling me this when we are discussing employment has everything to do with their prioritizing skills. What they are inferring is that factors such as work location, hours, pay and benefits will often outweigh other factors like job satisfaction, chances for advancement, even what the job actually involves in some cases. They are also saying, “Just like you, I’ve got my priorities in the right order”, because make no mistake, it’s important for them to align themselves with those they respect and who they see as able to help them. They know we are different in so many ways, but here we can be equals.

They genuinely want their children to have a successful life; which really means a better life with better opportunities that they themselves have had in the past and continue to have moving forward. That’s a pretty understandable hope. Whether it’s getting out of poverty, then moving beyond the ranks of the working poor or having better quality personal relationships, they generally want their kids to be better off in life.

Now even if you’ve never been in poverty yourself, you can I trust empathize with the parent(s) who have very little if anything in the way of surplus income; especially for those in receipt of government social assistance. By the time a person covers their rent and buys food there isn’t much left over. So you might assume the obvious thing to do would be put your child in care and get a job so they have more money to improve their children’s lives. That as it turns out isn’t how they always see it. Your forgiven and perhaps guilty of looking at this from a middle class perspective and assuming because that would be your plan if you were in that situation that it’s therefore logical that it should be their plan too.

Take some of their common realities into consideration. Not true for all of course, but there are some observable behaviours which can be explained completely by circumstances in which many find themselves. For starters, poverty is often generational. Those in receipt of social assistance may have been raised in families where poverty was the norm; their parents lacked financial literacy, discipline was harsh, parenting skills in short supply, education was undervalued and ambition was viewed as showing up your elders.

Now this isn’t the reality for everyone on social assistance but there are many who if reading this would say I was accurately describing their own histories. Now in the present day, this person who is a product of their upbringing lacks the benefits that come with good supportive parenting, encouragement in school. There’s no, “you can be anything you want to be” or, “follow your dreams” mantra giving them every hope of success in life.

So what happens? The reality for many is that despite their best intentions, those early years of growth and personal development have stunted their chances. Food might not have been the healthiest or available as often. There were limited opportunities to visit museums, art galleries, experience fine dining and theatrical productions. Socializing and vocabularies were limited and as a result they saw themselves as different. Some friends weren’t  allowed to visit where they lived, their clothes were hand-me-downs and never on the cusp of cool. In short, for reasons beyond their personal control, they were impoverished in ways that went far beyond money alone.

Okay so now as an adult, they have the best of intentions. Like you and I no matter where we are in life, they only know what they’ve experienced to date and hence despite their very best of intentions, may repeat many bad decisions; well, decisions you and I might look at objectively and consider bad decisions. No wonder than we might scoff and say, “Well if they’d only have some common sense” or “Well if they’d only do what I’d do”. But how can they make good decisions without the benefit of the tools and awareness that’s required to base those good decisions on?

So it comes as no surprise for example when they do find themselves with some additional funds that they quickly spend the money on their children seeking some measure of immediate gratification. Maybe it’s off to a fast-food restaurant which brings them and their children immediate if short-term happiness; a chance to do something beyond the norm and special.

You and I might have hoped they’d save that money and by clothes for job interviews, a bus pass to get around and job search, or maybe just save it for the child’s future education. That’s middle class thinking again.

Children are their number one priorities and their hearts are in the right place. Their intentions are understandable and should be applauded. What’s lacking for many is information, supportive learning, respectful role models, helping hands and non-judgemental interventions which meet them wherever they are in terms of their capacity to learn and their willingness to do so.

In many respects we are all not so different. Maybe something to think about today.

 

Take Charge


Do you know someone who as an adult, spends much of their time and precious energy pointing fingers and lamenting to anyone who will listen that their present and future circumstances are entirely out of their control? That someone or some other people are to blame for the position they find themselves in?

Yes it’s true that some of us come from impoverished neighbourhoods; not all of us have well-meaning, nurturing parents that treated us with respect and dignity as children. Some of us had every advantage too; good families with solid incomes, connections to people in important places that could and would mentor us and lay the plan before us to the land of milk and honey.

More of us grew up in the middle class. Our parents worked for a living, bought a home, took us on family vacations that they saved for throughout the year, put us in public schools and guided us along with what was right and what was proper. As we transitioned from children into teenagers and then again into young adults, these same parents helped as they could and as we allowed them to do so.

How we were brought up has a lot to do with how we see the world, and yes how the world sees us. People make assumptions about us based on our clothing choices, the neighbourhoods we walk or live in, the cars we drive or indeed the choice we make not to drive a car. Our skin colour, our ethnicity, our language skills, our friendliness or distrust, whether we’re loud, quiet, confident or cautious. We have biases and form opinions of others just as others do about us.

When we apply for a job we might think carefully about whether to include our home address or not in part because we wonder if that address would advance or curtail our chances of an interview. When we believe we’ll meet an employer, we think about our appearance, what we’ll share when they ask us to tell them a bit about us, and we think about the reputation of the company just as they think about the positive or negative factors in hiring us.

But back to the opening premise; I guess you can think of someone you know who blames their present unemployment or underemployment on the prejudices and opinions of others; the community into which they were born, their poor upbringing, their lack of connections, the colour of their skin, the religious beliefs they hold or the country of their birth.

There are a lot of frustrated, angry and bitter people out there; we can find them relatively easily if we go looking for them. Find one such person and they can probably introduce you to several more that they personally know; because like does attract like. And it’s easy isn’t it? I mean it’s easy to accept things the way they are, stop working to move forward, stop struggling for something better and just sit back and point at others as the source of our misery.

Taking responsibility not for the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but for doing something about things to improve our future; now that’s going to take work. Is it easy? Of course not! I’m not the first one by far to say that anything worth having is worth working hard for, but that’s the sum of it. Look, the thing is if you want a future different from your present reality; one that is better and has more opportunities to bring you happiness (however you define it), you’ve got to put in the work to make it happen.

You’re going to experience obstacles and you’re going to be tempted to give it up and believe that the good things in life were never intended for someone like you. Well, don’t believe it. Why not you? The only real limitations in this world are the ones we affix to our dreams and goals and these are the beliefs we hold; beliefs we can choose to keep or replace.

It doesn’t matter if we’re poor, insecure, mousey, shy, aboriginal, black, white or walking around with a grade 10 education. It doesn’t matter if we live in a trailer park or the wrong side of the tracks It doesn’t matter if we don’t have cable, can’t afford the internet, have never had a cell phone and haven’t got a driver’s licence. It also doesn’t matter if we’ve got a criminal record, we’re a single parent, our health is less than ideal or we don’t know the right people.

Here’s what DOES matter; the moment we decide that what could be is far better than what has been, and the decision we make to actually take personal responsibility for making changes that improve our situation. We have to make these decisions ourselves – and maybe we have numerous false starts; where we started to make some small changes but fell back into bad habits and making poor choices. Don’t feel bad and beat yourself up; you’re trying to change some longstanding behaviours here so start again. Start anew everyday if you have to until you see some small changes connecting and become new patterns of behaviour and more positive thoughts greet you in the morning each day.

Want a better life? Great. Make yourself accountable for making the dream of yours a reality. You CAN do this.

Want To Help Others? Help Yourself


One of the best qualities that many of those who have little possess is their willingness to give away the little they have to others who have less than themselves. I am truly surprised again and again when I see this phenomenon.

What I am not surprised with at all in working with those who are largely underemployed or unemployed and on social assistance, is that when asked about their career aspirations, they overwhelmingly talk about wanting to help others. So just to be clear, these are unemployed people with minimum wage part-time jobs or no jobs whatsoever, who are in receipt of financial assistance in order to eat and pay rent, and instead of having their hand out for more, are looking to help others. They may have hit on one of the very best attributes a person can have in doing so.

And here I am looking as objectively as I can at this person, living in poverty, living on a daily basis with the uncertainty that dependency on others requires, and thinking to myself, “You do realize you’re someone who needs help. Get yourself together first.”

Of course this inner voice that is compelling these same individuals to want to help others, resonates with them because they have been on the receiving end, and they know first-hand what it feels like to have someone reach out and offer them a hand. I think it fair to say that the people with employment that they interact with on social assistance are largely in the helping professions themselves, so the role models they see and aspire to are what they know.

In other words, if they have dealt with Social Workers, Caseworkers, Employment, Addiction and Mental Health Counsellors, Legal Aid Workers and Advocacy Workers, it is highly probable that at least one of these people at some point has had an impact on them for good; enough perhaps to make them want to do something similar.

In the middle class, we might growing up be exposed more to University Professors, business leaders, the financial sector etc., and so we might find someone in one of these professions and think to ourselves, “I’d like a job just like so-and-so. I could see myself doing that.”

Often the problem for people in poverty however is that they only see the side of the job where the person in the helping profession is meeting with them one-on-one. They don’t see the paperwork, the computer software data inputting, the theories that need mastering, the meetings, the statistic gathering, the proposal writing, the accountability. We in the professions know the schooling it took us to obtain our degrees, diplomas and Masters. Unfortunately, if we are objectively honest, we may find ourselves skeptical at best and downright unbelieving at worst, that a client in poverty battling mental health and addiction issues has what it will require to succeed in formal higher education.

Is that fair? Are we setting limits on people that we should really be encouraging? Or are we in danger of encouraging someone to strive for a job they say they want who will ultimately end up being in debt from University fees and drop out when they are overwhelmed because they lack the proper discipline and intellect to pass course exams?

There’s a danger here as we might be painting everyone in poverty and on assistance as destined for low-paying, working poor employment; and that’s just wrong. There are many in poverty who have intelligence, some with university degrees and even the odd Doctor here and there which might surprise you. It’s a testament to our ignorance; yours AND mine if we collectively think only people with low-education make up those in poverty.

One true way to help others of course does in fact remain to help yourself first. Help others down the road in other words when you’ve lifted yourself out of poverty and are self-sufficient. Get your education, get a decent paying job, or get your attitude adjusted from negative to positive. Put yourself in a place where you can rely on yourself financially, then you’ll find yourself in a position to not only help others with money if that’s your wish, but you can help them by being a living example.

It’s not enough in other words for an addict in recovery to see themselves as wanting to help others break free. Sure the intent is good, and no one knows more about what it feels like to be an addict than a recovered addict. However, to be highly effective, you’re going to need the education to go with your role as a past-user to be in a position to help others best when they are ready for your help.

Getting yourself together means setting some meaningful short and long-term goals. It means making some different and better decisions. It might mean a return to school to finish a diploma, gaining some self-respect and confidence. It might also mean putting your personal needs first and foremost at this point of your life and learning to both like and help yourself as a primary activity.

Whether it’s shaving an unruly beard, taming the wild hair, updating your wardrobe, saying, “yes” instead of “maybe someday”, you can make decisions to improve your personal life now.

It’s true; if you want to help others, help yourself first. That’s not selfish; it’s wisdom.