The Next Guy

I’m as Christian as the next guy. I’m also as middle class, suburban, and privileged as the next guy.

In Kansas, the next guy looks a lot like me. 

And the guy after that. 

So when I found myself in a downtown Topeka hotel ballroom recently at the Kansas Conference on Poverty, was it just paranoia that had me thinking they’re all looking at me as though I should do more? Or at least pony up more.

In a hotel full of true believers, I felt like the outlier. 

A Kansas non-profit exec: “We’re too busy managing programs to lead the change...” 

I was there because of a professional obligation. We’re doing some work with a group seeking to make an impact on childhood poverty in Kansas and I needed to get smarter.

Within minutes of a poverty simulation role play, I found myself taking moral shortcuts and justifying them. Well, we gotta prioritize. I’ll stiff the transit system if it means I can keep the lights on and food in the kids’ tummies.

Walk a mile in their shoes? The system works.   

A social worker: “There’s a component of shame/pride that prevents some families from even engaging in common, everyday banking transactions.” 

I’ll admit to sensing an undercurrent of ‘us versus them’ and even though I am a proud unaffiliated, independent voter, there remain distant vestiges of my Bob Dole/Nancy Kassebaum/Bill Graves Republicanism that bristles at some of the loud voices who believe government’s the be-all, end-all answer.

Because it’s not.   

Nah, “bristles” is too strong. I no longer bristle. It's been a long time since I've taken umbrage. Maybe a better way to put it is I simply believe a challenge as deep and daunting as poverty can not be sufficiently dealt with by government alone.

The closing keynoter, Sister Simone Campbell (the nun on the bus) believes strongly that the separation of wealth/income in the U.S. is destroying the fabric of our society... that we simply don’t know where we are in relation to each other.

What Sister Simone calls the “myth of the individual...” justifies the relocation of wealth.   

I disagree.

She also says we share the “civil obligation” to learn what we don’t know. In the hope and belief that in so doing, actions to enhance the common good will result.

I agree.   

A good friend of mine says we don’t know what we don’t know. And that the only way we’ll learn what we don’t know is to learn what we don’t know. Then we’ll know. 

When it comes to childhood poverty in Kansas, I can lift my own personal veil of ignorance.

As a Christian, my calling is to love my neighbor and help those less fortunate.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

It’s not an epiphany. Just a realization that when it comes poverty in Kansas, now I know.

The next step is squarely on me. Maybe the next guy feels similarly.