Overcoming poverty, inequality and anger

Published 9:26 pm Monday, February 17, 2014

By Joseph L. Bass

Some Americans are unhappy about their lot in life. Many are extremely angry. They have been promised for 50 years that government programs meant to overcome poverty and inequality will solve their problems. But even after spending trillions of dollars, these efforts have not helped everyone live the American dream.

These unhappy Americans are like a worker who had a difficult day and kicked the family dog for doing what the dog does without reprimand every other day. The real issue isn’t what the dog did but the problems of the day.

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The dissatisfaction and anger of unhappy Americans are the daily undercurrent of some people’s lives, and that undercurrent is sometimes hard for others to understand, and it causes the rift between the two groups to grow.

What can be done to successfully overcome the seemingly intractable poverty and inequality that continue to exist? Why haven’t poverty and inequality programs worked, and what other approaches can be applied?

Some of the answers to this question can be found in what has been learned about motivation and productivity during the last 50 years. Other answers can be found in our lack of knowledge of community, social dynamics and how to successfully bring about change. A society isn’t like a machine that can be fixed by changing one part but an interrelated, socially organic whole.

For example, in the 1950s and early ‘60s it was thought that increased salaries and more benefits would motivate employees to work harder, produce more and be more satisfied with their work. These erroneous concepts formed the basis of “War on Poverty” programs during the Lyndon Johnson administration and still do.

In later years it was learned that motivation is fostered through work, accomplishments and recognition of achievements. None of these concepts have been incorporated in efforts to overcome poverty.

We will begin to achieve “War on Poverty” goals when we begin to utilize these new understandings about work, motivation and accomplishment.

We also must increase our knowledge of and improve our approaches to bringing about community and social change. Many “War on Poverty” efforts destroyed successful, cohesive communities and seriously damaged our educational systems. These negative results were caused by actions based on the concept that society operates as and can be tweaked like a machine.

For example, it was assumed that a child raised in a hostile, demeaning environment (not of the parents’ making) would be as successful in school as a child raised in a nurturing, educationally focused community. When that did not happen, the federal government started suing schools for discrimination. Similar wrong thinking was applied to student discipline.

If we are going to begin to successfully address poverty and inequality and overcome smoldering anger, we must apply different approaches and transition from the unsuccessful actions applied during the last 50 years.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.