This past Monday I watched our local city-county council get bogged down in petty politics as they debated a proposal to provide legal protections to our neighbors living without homes. As I watched this, I kept thinking of how important the quality of humility is if we are ever going to see any substantial change in the treatment of our friends without homes. In his book Spiritual Leadership J. Oswald Sanders called humility one of the essential qualities of leadership.
Humility is needed by the current ensemble of professional service providers in our city to admit that, although they have done much good, there are still many not being helped by their services and some people fall through the cracks in the current system. The assumption can be that the ones not being helped are choosing not to receive the help, but reality is more complex than that. They must also recognize that grassroots efforts to bring necessities to those living on the street are not about enabling the homelessness, but about building trust in order to assist our friends off the street.
Humility is needed by those of us involved in grassroots faith-based efforts to recognize that many of those in the professional service industry entered the field with good intentions, though it’s not always apparent by the way things are operated. It’s possible that some of them have lost sight of their original purpose in the struggle to keep their organizations afloat, but the heart that got them involved in their mission must still be there somewhere. Perhaps our efforts will yield fruit in seeing these providers spending time in self-examination and stepping up to meet the challenges they face in a way that yields the type of results we would like to see. So, we need to see them as colleagues in the fight against poverty and not obstacles.
Humility is needed by conservative politicians to recognize that the dogma of personal responsibility does not define the story of every person in poverty and some may need help pulling on their “bootstraps.” As someone who lives among you and grew up with many of the same views I had to learn to listen to people to find out what they really needed instead of just giving them what I thought they needed. I had to take time to listen to their stories instead of hurrying to find a “solution” that would make me feel good, but not make any real difference in their lives.
Humility is needed by those of us who champion the cause of the poor to recognize that we don’t hold the corner on compassion. Sometimes questions asked by political conservatives are simply an effort to understand the issue better and have answers to bring back to their constituency that will be looking at the cost of our efforts.
My hope is that all involved will find the humility to come together for real change and not simply stay entrenched in their divisive views while our friends without homes struggle through another winter.