Why care so much about the poor?


January 9, 2017

Why care so much about the poor, the destitute and the disabled? That is the question that I recently woke up asking myself.
I do care, and the people whom I admire most care, too. Now 83 years old, I have spent the majority of those years writing about people in need — often through interviews I reproduced in books and columns that allowed them to speak for themselves.

I am finally asking myself this question, and I think we all might ask ourselves why.

Why do I personally care? It is not because I am a liberal. I am one, yes; but I can at times also be a conservative or a radical.

One of my best friends throughout the years was the late Henry Regnery, whose obituary in the New York Times called him the “godfather of modern conservatism.”

We really truly liked and respected each other.

Most of my friends, however, are liberal — or radicals — who truly care about poorer people. Any number of friends have also been and are homeless and destitute.

Carol and I have been married for more than 50 years. She spent many years as a registered nurse caring for the mentally ill in community shelters. Then, for 20 years of her life, she was a lawyer defending indigent men and women on death row around the country in the last stages of their appeals.

I respect that you also care since you are taking the time and effort to read the blog of the Coalition on Human Needs, and you are probably prepared to do things as a result.

So the question has become not why do I, but rather why do we — or anyone — care?

Mary Schmich, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune recently coined the phrase, “the discipline of optimism.”

Mary wrote that President Obama “summoned us to optimism.”

“Optimism isn’t quite the same as hope, no matter what the thesaurus says. To my ear, hope is a fluffier thing, that pretty flower that springs spontaneously from the dirt, no gardening skills required.

“Optimism, on the other hand, is hard. It can take work. It demands focus in the face of contradiction. It is a habit of mind, and like all habits it can be difficult to cultivate, easy to lose. …

“The discipline of optimism asks you to believe that — with focused effort — things can get better, even when times are bleak. It asks you to look up and forward when you’re tempted to look down and back. …

“This optimism is one of Obama’s great parting gifts to us. It’s up to us to find constructive ways to use it.”

Although I have written for publications for more than 60 years, never — not even once — have I written anything as relevant and as good as Mary Schmich’s January 6, 2017 column from which I just quoted.

Poverty and Income