Erroneous ideas on how to help the poor are a major cause of the problem.
With this latter group, the focus should not be so much that of my taking care of the poor, but of aiding the poor to take care of themselves. But, again, not all advice on helping the poor works, so there is a real question of morality, politics, and economics involved here. “Identifying” with the poor is not enough and may well be harmful if ineffective or bad advice is given. We will not help the poor or anyone else, unless we love them. But just because we love someone, it does not follow that how we show this love is a feasible way to help the poor.
Many people’s focus on helping the poor is immediate help. This is good. But the more important issue is long term—what really reduces and eliminates poverty. This approach not only reaches more people in the long run but also takes into consideration what works. With Paul, we should all be “mindful” of the poor. But, with Aristotle, we should first know and distinguish what does help them and what does not. Otherwise our concern for the poor is as likely to harm as as to help them.
James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are "The Mind That Is Catholic" and "The Modern Age."
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