Saturday, November 12, 2005


What creates a slum? What constitutes “slum mentality”? What are the elements that come together to make a slum a way of life? How does hopelessness fit into the picture? What kind of hope would people have to have to keep where they live from becoming, or remaining, a slum? How does the rest of society contribute to the hopelessness of those who reside in slums? What does the rest of society need from the slum dwellers in order to help them transform the slums? How can “they” help “us” help “them”? What do slum dwellers need to be able to “bring to the table”? Where are these questions being asked, and answered?

Who is “getting to the bottom” of homelessness, and poverty, and un, and under, employment? Who is addressing the hopelessness and despair which keep people from believing in their own future? Our dreams have to be attainable in order to motivate us toward their realization, otherwise, they become fantasies which serve only as escapes from the reality of our lives. Kids in the slums might fantasize about being the next Michael Jordan, but they don’t “have a dream.” We have to dream “within our means,” and we have to have means to achieve our dreams. What means do we have to have to fuel our dreams and prevent us from sinking into slumdom? What are the minimum expectations that we need to have for our lives to keep from slipping into slumdom?

It seems to me that three principles that have to be embraced by slum dwellers are “first things first,” and “one step at a time,” and “plug away.” I can see where the prospect of escaping, or transforming, the slum would be overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you stay at it? What do you have to work with? How do you keep going? Where does encouragement come from? I couldn’t do it alone. Where would I find a supporting community that understood the nature of my life, and helped me with the task of knowing what the “first things” are, and with the task of taking “one step at a time”? And, who kept me at the task of “plugging away”?

It appears to me that slum dwellers are on their own. Not one person who is living well in the rest of society is on her, or his, own. If we are to break the slum cycle, we have to create caring communities within the slums that foster awareness and compassion, provide encouragement, nurture hope, offer direction, and help people dream realistically and find the means of realizing their dreams. I don’t think we can transform the slums from the outside. I think that to have a chance at transformation, about a dozen of us are going to have to move into a slum and create a saving space there for people to be. First things first, you know. One step at a time. Plug away. Did you think we could order up a take-out remedy and have it delivered?


All of the fixes for the real problems of life require us to take our lives in one hand and hurl them as hard as we can broadside into the problem. It takes a life to save a life, or lots of them. We cannot do it at a distance. If we want to make a difference in the lives of others, we are going to have to be involved with them in their lives, in the experience of life. We cannot send them postcards from our home in the mountains. We can become too comfortable for our lives to mean anything to anyone, including ourselves. Comfort lends itself to meaninglessness. Something else to watch for. Crossing the line. Becoming so comfortable we aren’t alive.

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