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The Note

note from JoeThere are people who don’t understand what I do for a living or why I do it.

I belong to an underappreciated profession that isn’t well paid and regularly interacts with people who are often discounted by “the establishment.”

But then again, I’ve never been overly concerned about what the establishment thinks.

Great things only happen when we color outside the lines, cheer for the underdog, lift broken spirits, and, most importantly, believe in second chances.

That’s probably why I became a social worker  – a profession that is defined by the beliefs that anyone can change and that people, not businesses or corporations, power the world.

The opportunity to harness that potential energy to is what drives me to get up every morning. But listening to the stories of the people I have the privilege of serving each day is what keeps me going.

The power of their stories was never more clear than this past weekend when a friend and I drove by a man who was mumbling to himself as he ambled along the shoulder of the road.

“What’s up with that guy?” my friend asked.

“A lot,” I answered. “He has schizophrenia, he’s been homeless multiple times, his family disowned him, and he knows my name.”

What I didn’t tell her is how much he means to me and all of my co-workers and how we are all relieved when he comes into the office. Nor did I mention that we look through the newspaper and the local jail website when he doesn’t. I didn’t explain how we celebrate when we know he’s taking his medication, can hold a conversation and actually exhibits a great sense of humor.

She doesn’t work in my office and therefore can’t truly understand how being a part of such compassionate workplace is immensely more valuable than a big paycheck.

My friend knows that my fan club is a group of homeless men who hang out downtown during the day. What she doesn’t know is those guys actually have a talent for making me smile on my most difficult days, just as one of our most recent clients did last week.

His name is Joe. When he arrived at our office, he had just released from prison with the clothes on his back, $400 dollars to his name and his prison release letter. A caring landlord was letting him work off the cost of a security deposit, but he was still trying to find money to pay his first month’s rent.

And even though he came to the office looking for help, he was able to offer us more than we could give him. One of our toilets was clogged and overflowing. When Joe recognized the problem, he jumped right in to help.

Trust me, he really did jump and the fix really wasn’t pleasant.

Ironically, the next time he arrived in the office, another toilet was misbehaving.

He fixed that one too.

Since then, he’s weeded our parking lot, emptied our trash and started cleaning or offices on a weekly basis.

The man who grew up in foster care, is functionally illiterate,  and is trying his best to stay on the straight and narrow when the odds are again him,  has mastered the art of paying it forward.

Which is why, when I came into my office on Friday after a morning of meetings, the simple note on my desk meant so much.

The five words “Have a nice day Joe”  were more than mere words.

They represented his entire life struggle. I knew that writing that note had been an  effort for him but that he believed I was worth the effort.

And I believe he’s worth the effort too.

The Curve

the curveWhen I was in high school, my fellow students begged our teachers to grade on a curve. Their theory, of course, was that if everyone did poorly, no one would fail. That wasn’t necessarily true, but we were self-absorbed teenagers with little concern for broader implications.

If you’re not familiar with the grading curve, it’s a tool used by some educators to distribute grades on a bell curve. When an assignment or test is scored, the average score becomes the average grade. The scores above and below the average are distributed accordingly. That means, if you get a really high score, you might skew the curve for everyone else. It also means some students are guaranteed to land at the wrong end of the curve.

Back in the 1980’s, my teachers rarely actually graded on a curve. But when they did, I knew two things would happen:

1:  I would get grief from all the other students in class warning me not to do so well that I would mess up the curve, and,

2:  I had an opportunity to prove that I didn’t need a curve to do well. And that opportunity far exceeded my concern about anyone else’s grade.

At the time, my self-worth was completely wrapped up in academic success. I truly thought that the only thing at which I could excel, and which made my existence matter, was getting good grades. (Yes, I completely related to Brian in the Breakfast Club).

I also believed that getting good grades was simply a matter of working hard, and that anyone could work hard. I had little tolerance for my peers who got mad when I did well. To me, they just needed to try harder.

And so, I shamefully admit, I always tried to burn the curve.

Needless to say, I’m embarrassed that I used to think that way. I now realize that I had so many advantages: educated parents, good nutrition, a safe place to sleep, a home free of violence, a family that embraced education, a mother who believed women didn’t need to depend on men, and a father who expected as much of his daughter as he did of his son. My list of advantages could go on and on and on.

But now, all these years later, I recognize how some children start off at disadvantage simply because of the family they are born into or because of a disability. Some struggle to read. Others struggle to overcome loss of at least one parent in the house. Others were never encouraged or never had an adult who even recognized their potential. And when you are struggling just to get by, studying for test isn’t a priority.

That’s why, more than 30 years later, I may be ashamed at who I once was, but I am also ashamed of some of the former classmates who still embrace the bell curve. Some of the same people who encouraged me not to exceed are now blaming their neighbors for falling at the negative end of the curve. I know this because I see their posts on social media.

They complain about people “on welfare”and how they don’t want their hard-earned money going to support people who are lazy and just don’t try. The want to drug test individuals who receive SNAP (food stamps) because they aren’t deserving. And they have the misguided belief that if people just try, they can find a job that pays more and provides benefits.

When I read such opinions, I can’t help but  wonder if my former classmates remember back to the days when I, the person at the top of the bell curve, had similar thoughts about them.

But, over time, I learned that each of us has fought both visible and invisible battles to get where we are, and success looks different for everyone. No one’s achievement shouldn’t be denied or belittled. But neither should we think everyone has the ability to achieve what we have.

Such thinking only accomplishes what the bell curve does: ensures an elite few stay on top while someone will always be struggling to just get by.

The Drug Test

drug testO.K. I get it.

If you don’t know anything about “the welfare system,” then drug testing “people on welfare” makes sense.

After all, your hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being used to support “people on welfare.”

Even on days when you don’t want to go to work, you show up because that is what is required for you to bring home a regular paycheck. Obviously, “people on welfare” are looking for an easier way to get money.

And, because they aren’t working hard like you are, they must spend their time doing whatever they want – including watching television all day and doing drugs. Since they don’t have jobs, the money that “people on welfare” use to buy those drugs is obviously coming from their “welfare check” that we, the hard- working taxpayers, provide them. If they didn’t use the money from their “welfare check” to buy the drugs, then they don’t need a “welfare check” at all.

To ensure that no one “on welfare” is using our money to buy drugs, then we have to drug test them. That way we won’t be wasting taxes, right?


The seemingly ongoing demand and state jumping on the drug testing band wagon isn’t based on facts and statistics but rather on prejudice, stereotypes and misinformation about “the welfare system.”i don't always

It’s also a waste money. Requiring drug tests for individuals who receive social services benefits has consistently been shown to increase administrative costs with little else to show for the efforts.

When the State of Tennessee started testing individuals who applied for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), only 37 out of more than 16,000 applicants failed drug tests during a six month period.  Those results weren’t much different from those in other states, such as Utah and Florida.

I don’t know what the cost of administering those tests was, but I do know there is no way that those results can be spun to indicate cost-effectiveness. But then, the outcry for drug-testing people who receive TANF has never really been about cost-effectiveness or even helping families with drug addiction.

It has always been about pointing fingers at low-income people and blaming them for their circumstances.drug-testin-testing-for-welfare-recipeants

Despite public perception that “people on welfare” are lazy and don’t do much to contribute to society, the life of people who receive TANF isn’t all that restful. First they have children to raise.

TANF, which was established during the Clinton administration, is only available to families with children. It also requires recipients to participate in programs that help them learn skills and gain employment. In West Virginia, TANF recipients are required to sign a personal responsibility contract which they have to follow or they will lose benefits.

Even if they do all that is required of them, federal law prohibits them from receiving  more than 60 months of assistance during a lifetime.

For a small amount of cash assistance (in West Virginia, a family of four receives an average amount of about $385 each month), TANF recipients must go to classes, do volunteer work and actively seek employment. Studies show that the average time any individual receives TANF is 24 months, and that is usually the result of unfortunate circumstances like the loss of a job or divorce.  Much like an insurance policy, TANF was available to these individuals who had been taxpayers but fell in tough times until they could once again be taxpayers.

I have many more friends who never used TANF  not because they never had financial difficulties but because they had the resource friends and family to help them through the crisis. Not everyone is surrounded by people who have the resources to help.

But even when we look beyond the stereotypes about who receives TANF, there are even bigger issues.. For example,what happens when someone does test positive for drugs? What will happen to their children (since they must have children to even receive the assistance.) Just as critical, who will be responsible for treatment and recovery services? In my community, those services are usually unavailable and inaccessible to low-income and rural individuals. Advocates have been complaining for years about the lack of treatment programs. Before we focus on drug testing anyone, we must  have the community capacity to help those who struggle with addiction.

The call for drug testing “people on welfare” only makes sense to those who either don’t understand the social services system or who don’t want to understand it.  It only makes sense to people who don’t mind stereotyping low-income people or who don’t realize that’s what they are doing. And it only makes sense to those who think that subjecting people who are already struggling to additional accusations is more effective than subjecting them to a helping hand.

The Crap Shoot

diceI am fortunate to have a job in which I am constantly reminded that I won the lottery of life and which gifts  me with examples of my luck on a daily basis.

Recently, my co-worker rushed to clean the seat of a chair where a schizophrenic homeless man sat unaware that his pants were so low they were no longer covering what should have been covered. When she gently told him to pull up his pants, he apologized and pulled the up. My organization’s ability to serve this young man is limited, and he walks the street every night. Several people are working with him to try to find adequate services that will address his needs and provide him with a safe place to sleep. In the meantime, he has nothing more than what he can carry in his arms.

At the beginning of the month, I spent hours trying to find a way to get a young man back to his family. He had lost his job and with it the income that allowed him to pay rent or buy food. While on the phone with his mother, the operator broke into the conversation with a call from a prison. The prisoner was the young man’s father, who proceeded to tell me what a loser his son was. He also told the woman with whom I was talking that she should not travel the hour to pick up her son because he didn’t deserve it. Sadly, the mother listened, and the young man remained stranded with no support system or resources.

This week, a woman with six children called our offices asking for help. The electricity at her house, a run-down shack, had been shut off, and she had no hot water for baths or showers and no way to cook or heat up food. Her husband, who had lost his job a few months ago, had recently found  employment but wouldn’t be receiving a paycheck for several weeks. Since the family had no electricity, and therefore no fans or air conditioning, they leave their windows open in hopes of a breeze. Because of that, the children’s bodies are covered in mosquito bites.

Every day, I hear conversations I cannot understand. My office is right next to that of our immigration attorney, so I listen daily to conversations in foreign language. Occasionally, I understand what is being said, and it is never heartwarming. I listen to families who came to the United States for political or humanitarian reasons and have no place to go. Just the other day, I witnessed a six-year-old child translating  for her mother. She was telling our outreach worker about the eviction notice her family had received.  At the age of six years, this little girl should be playing with dolls, taking dance lessons and swimming with her friends. Instead, she is doing all she can to prevent her family from being homeless.

Perhaps most controversial and yet most heartbreaking among the clients I encounter daily are the hundreds of people who live in generational poverty in the United States. Of these individuals, some were raised in families in which violence was a norm. Others lived in homes in which education wasn’t a value and in which routines such as dinner and bedtimes were foreign concepts. Some were born to parents who abused drugs and who neglected their children during the most crucial years.

Even though I come face to face with such poverty very day, I am also reminded that for every person who walks through our offices seeking assistance, there is another person who is pointing fingers and placing blame. I’ve heard it all:

“If people tried harder, they would have an education and a job.”

“Our country already has too many problems. Why should we help people from other countries?”

“If I can make it, anyone can make it.”

“I’m tired of my hard-earned dollars going to support woman who had kids just so they could live off the system.”

What many people don’t realize is that, as my co-worker says, “Life is one big crap shot.”

We don’t get to choose who are parents will be or where we will be born. We don’t get to choose how intelligent we will be or whether we will inherit a mental illness. And we certainly don’t get to choose whether we will be raised in an environment that values good judgement or in one where children are  just lucky to get through childhood alive.

There are days when I wish I could yell to the world. I want to say that I completely agree we should all do our best and we should all make good decisions. But I also want to yell that some of us are fortunate to have been raise to understand cause, effect and consequences. Some of use are lucky to have been raised with values on which we make good decisions. Some of us were raised to think about the future rather than just the moment at hand. And some of us were raised with people who want us to excel rather than pull us down.

If life is truly a crap shoot, then I was lucky enough to roll a good deal. I may not have a lot of money or the biggest house on the block, but I am an intelligent woman surrounded by people who support me. Even better, I am  surrounded by people who will do the same for a stranger who was never handed the same odds that I was.

My real fortune comes not just from having a job but  from having a job that allows me to witness people who truly understand that their skills, knowledge, education and general good fortune aren’t just good luck. They received these gifts so they could use them to help and provide for others.

Getting to witness such acts to benefit the less fortunate  on a daily basis makes me one of the luckiest woman in the world.

Simple Minded

rumiI used to believe that as we matured, we grew out of our need for simple story lines. The fairy tales we enjoyed as children generally featured characters who were all good or all bad.

As we got older and our brains matured from concrete to abstract thinking, we realized that people and situations are complicated and that life comes at us in a broad spectrum of colors – not just black and white.

That was the paradigm in which I used to believe.

Maybe that’s because I’ve surrounded myself with individuals who have complicated views of the world and I have yet to meet anyone who is even close to perfect. Maybe that’s because my own life and belief systems are complicated. Or maybe it’s because I’m a social worker, which means I see the best and worst in people almost every single day.

For whatever reason, I sometimes forget there are too many people who have unrealistically simple views of the world.

And then life hands me a great big dose of a reality and I am left dumbstruck at how people can justify being judgmental by painting human behavior with broad brushes of right and wrong, good or bad and deserving and undeserving,

Even worse are the people who think they have THE answer for eliminating such complicated issues as poverty and violence.

Just this past week, a colleague asked an individual who works at an organization that serves low-income families what these families need to help them improve their situation. Instead of thoughtful dialogue, the individual began to rant about all the families that “abuse the system.”

Then he suggested that we stop rewarding women for getting pregnant so they can access to benefits.

Call me naïve, but I am highly doubtful that most baby-making situations are the direct result of a female thinking she will be financially secure if she has a baby.

With that said, I’m equally sure that there are women who aren’t concerned about getting pregnant because someone, be it the system or a grandparent or perhaps the father, will step up to help with the situation.

There are women who get pregnant because they don’t think about consequences and there are those who are desperate for love and attention. And there are low-income women who get pregnant because, shocking as it may be, they want to have a family.

And not every mother was single or lacked income when she got pregnant. People lose their jobs, and finding child care is difficult for those who do shift work. People face financial problems because of mental or physical illness every day. Relationships fall apart. Some women are brave enough to leave an abusive relationship only to face financial hardships.

Do you see what I mean about being complicated?

But people who prefer simplistic answers don’t want to consider complicated. They want to devalue the worth of single mothers or low-income families who experience generational poverty.

But my complicated (or mature?) mind can’t understand that way of thinking. Instead, I believe that we are all imperfect humans who have a relatively short time on earth. Some of us are born into better circumstances than others. Some of us had parents who nurtured us and helped our brains develop appropriately. Some of us had role models and grew up in homes where chaos was unusual and unacceptable.

In other words, some of us were just plain lucky, and last I checked, lucky and worthy are two entirely different concepts.

Life is not fair, and instead of wasting precious time and energy trying to balance the scales of fairness (something even my children know will never happen), we should spend our time and energy cheering on and supporting our fellow humans.

That doesn’t mean we should accept that people live poverty or that they have no responsibility for trying to improve their situation – they do. But that does mean that we should provide opportunities to help them improve, and, more importantly, we shouldn’t judge.

Often, that doesn’t involve changing circumstances or rules for other people. That involves changing ourselves.

That’s not easy. In fact, it’s rather… complicated.


Last offensiveTuesday was a V E R Y  L O N G  day.

I left my parents’ rural home and drove more than an hour to a day-long meeting. When that meeting was over, I drove five more hours home.

The drive got longer after a received then ruminated about a phone call from an angry friend.

“Trina,” she said. “I have to talk to you, because I know you’ll understand.”

Even though I’d been talking to people all day, anyone who strokes my ego always has my attention.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“I just got the worst phone call I have ever received. It was absolutely horrible.”

At first, I was really concerned for my friend, but as she continued to talk, my concern turned to anger.

The Sheriff’s Association had called asking her to donate to a program to conduct drug education in the schools. Since my friend and her husband had previously supported the organization, she let the man on the other end of the phone talk.

What he said was absolutely despicable.

“We have all these kids whose parents don’t care about them,” the voice said. “All they want to do is sit at home and collect their welfare check. They don’t want to talk to their kids about drugs. They just don’t care enough. That’s why we have such a drug problem.”

According to my friend, she pulled a Trina Bartlett. (I have to give myself a little credit in this story).

She asked the man on the phone if he knew whom he was talking with, gave him an earful and then hung up.

‘I don’t know if he was following a script or if he was just expressing his own opinions,” my friend said. “But either way, the fact that he was trying to raise money by blaming people on welfare for drug abuse was absolutely offensive.”

I agreed.

I was not only offended by the sweeping judgments about anyone who receives public assistance but also by the fact that he was literally preying on the prejudices of other people. Public servants shouldn’t be perpetuating stereotypes. The should be countering them.

Ironically, the man making the fundraising call targeted the wrong person.

She is a parent who knows drug abuse is not an income nor a class issue. She knows that no matter how much parents care, their children sometimes still make poor choices. And she also knows that blaming people is not the best way to approach drug prevention.

The day after she received the fundraising call, my friend called the county sheriff, whom she knows personally.

He has yet to return her call, and something tells me he probably never will.

Yet that’s not the end of this story.

This story only ends when other people also call him and complain. It only ends when other people have the guts to stand up to stereotypes and prejudice. And it only ends when people stopping blaming and simply join together to help and support each other.

I can only hope this story ends sooner rather than later.


I’d be lying if I claimed I never stereotype people. But I am being completely truthful when I say I come by those unfair stereotypes honestly.

That is, they aren’t based on propaganda or how I was raised. They are based on experience.

Take, for my example, my instant assumption about women who wear fur coats and multiple diamond rings on their fingers. There’s a reason I automatically label them as being self-centered.

Years ago, on a bitter cold December day when I was in my twenties and living just on the right side of poverty, I spent my entire lunch hour take-a-numberwaiting in line at the post office. I was hungry and irritated, which are generally interchangeable for me. I was also uncomfortable and sweating.  The temperature in the post office had been bumped up to fight against the frigid temperature outside, but I was wearing my winter coat. I was also carrying numerous packages and simply hoping the line would suddenly advance.

It didn’t. Every customer had multiple packages, and, even though we were smack in the middle of the holiday rush, there were only two clerks working at the counter. As we inched forward, I tried to find ways to amuse myself. Since this was in the days before smart phones, I counted the tiles on the floor and made up stories about the other customers. I even tried to strike up a conversation with the person in front of me, but he was even more irritable than I was.

And then, she arrived.

The woman wearing the fur coat and lots of diamonds swept (yes, she really swept) into the post office with an armful of packages like the rest of us. Only, unlike the rest of us, she took one look at the line and loudly announced, “I don’t have time to wait in line. I have a lunch appointment.” And then she simply walked to the counter and insisted she be served immediately.

She was.

While the rest of us stood with our mouths hanging open, the clerk accepted her demands and began processing her packages. She swept out in a manner similar to the way she had swept in. Only now, unlike the rest of us, she no longer carried packages.

And she never apologized.

From that time on, I labeled women who wore furs and diamonds as entitled.

In years to come, I would hear others use that same word to describe individuals and families who have depended on government assistance. And I would always cringe.

expressBut this week, I had an eye-opening experience.

I was picking up a few things at the grocery store and was checking out in the express line with my seven (yes, I counted them) items. As the customer in front of me finished checking out, a women walked in the door of the store.

She had rather straggly hair and was dressed in cheap clothes. The little girl tagging along behind her didn’t look much better.

Instead of getting in line, she glanced at me then entered the check out line where most people exit. She simply walked between me and the man who was checking out. The clerk also glanced at me, as though unsure what to do. But the woman took control of the situation. She ordered three packs of cigarettes and then, when asked if she was using a debit or credit, almost rebelliously said “credit.”

I was disgusted. She had blatantly cut in front of me to charge cigarettes. And she had done it with a child in tow. She behaved as though she were…entitled.

And that’s when I got it. I understood how one experience can easily shape our opinion about all people who look or act in a certain way. And I understood that entitlement has absolutely nothing to do with social or economic class and has everything to do with individuals who think more about themselves than about others.

And neither one is right.

Another Excuse for Bigotry

Over the past couple years, I’ve been doing my best to hold my tongue and tolerate people who use social networking sites to post rude and mean-spirited comments about specific groups of people. But this week, I finally snapped.

I’m calling out these people for what they are: bigots.

According to the dictionary, a bigot is someone who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially in regards to members of a group.

As America grows more and more diverse, such attitudes against people of different colors or nationalities has become less and less acceptable.

But bigots are haters and, as my kids tell me on a regular basis, haters hate.

So, the haters have set their sights on poor people, particularly those who have had to depend on government assistance when they face tough times.

I’m not the only person whose been noticing this trend.

This week, a colleague stepped into my office, and during a casual conversation, broke into tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just so angry. I had a relative post the meanest thing on Facebook.”

The post she was referring to was a meme that compared people on welfare to a dog: lazy, unemployed, with no known father.

“I wanted to give her the facts,” she said, “but I know that won’t matter. She just won’t listen.”

I know how she feels.  For years, I’ve been trying to share the facts with those who demonize people “on welfare.”

In July 2011, I tried to educate them: my rant about people who rant about welfare.  People continued to make judgmental comments.

Last Thanksgiving, when people bragged that they never asked for handouts and didn’t want their tax dollars going to those who aren’t willing to help themselves, I tried to explain that very few people succeed on their own: I’m thankful for the handouts I’ve received. The people who should have read that blog obviously didn’t.

Over time, I’ve come to believe that efforts to educate people who wrap themselves in indignation and self-righteousness are simply ineffective.

And yet I still try.

So, for all those people who continue to point fingers and won’t listen to facts, at least listen to this:

When you are making judgmental comments about any group, you are actually referring to individuals who comprise that group. Unlike skin color and despite your preconceived notions about how people on welfare look, you don’t always know who is part of that group.  Some of your friends and acquaintances may have, at some point in their life, depended on social services.

These individuals have feelings. When you laugh at people on welfare, you are doing absolutely nothing to encourage them. When you blame them for taking your hard-earned money, you are doing nothing to help them succeed.  And when you call them lazy, you are questioning their integrity and intentions.  You are simply making them feel worse than they probably already do.

I am under no illusion that people will change their political opinions or their values based on what I write. But what I am asking is for more kindness and understanding. I’m also making a final plea that people get the facts before they make comments about anyone.

I know there’s a platitude that ignorance is bliss, but given the ignorance I’ve observed recently, I disagree. Instead, I think ignorance is just another excuse for bigotry. And that’s just not acceptable.

Fools On An Artificial Ladder

Even though I like to consider myself an open-minded and fairly accepting individual, I haven’t always behaved in a manner that demonstrates this.  In fact, there are times when I’ve acted foolishly and treated people horribly.

One of my worst infractions occurred when I was a teenager in a place that was supposed to promote love and acceptance:  church.

At the time, our church was predominantly middle class. Parishioners were well-groomed, nicely dressed and carefully coiffed when they arrived on Sunday morning. Most were neighbors or co-workers who socialized with the same general crowd and who shoveled their dirty laundry into the closet to either hide it or pretend it didn’t exist.

Their equilibrium was disrupted one Sunday when a family from a nearby trailer park came to church and then began attending services on a regular basis. The parents and children were certainly wearing their Sunday finest, but they were anything but well-groomed and carefully coiffed.  I remember the other adults at church were a bit patronizing but outwardly nice.  The kids weren’t.  We did our best to exclude the children, and we made fun of them behind their backs.

Eventually, the family stopped coming to church, and until recently, I had forgotten about them.

But I was reminded of them again a couple of weeks ago when a young woman who works at a local restaurant told me about her Sunday regulars. Her customers’ routine is to go out to eat after Sunday service, but the dish they enjoy most isn’t on the menu.  Instead, they loudly and openly share what everyone else did wrong during the church service. They complain about children who misbehaved, and they make fun of the appearance of some of the adults. Apparently, they are too busy judging others to hear the sermon.

What I can’t fathom is why, as older adults, they feel the need to act this way.

As an adolescent, I know my behavior was contrary to the way I was raised.  But, I was insecure and believed that I wouldn’t be at the bottom of the social ladder if someone else were there instead.  As an adult, I realize how inconsequential, meaningless and ridiculous that social construct is.  I also realize that there are a lot of adults who still buy into it. They falsely believe some people are superior to others and that asserting their superiority will ensure their place on their senseless social ladder.

For the most part, their behavior isn’t nearly as blatant as the hypocritical, church-going restaurant patrons, but it is still based on their need to affirm their status. Take, for example, a local non-profit leader who complained about business people being asked to attend community meetings at the local Department of  Health and Human Resources office.  This individual, who also lays claim to being a good Christian, said that community and business leaders shouldn’t have to be in the waiting room with the people asking for help/welfare.

Not to be presumptuous, but I’m pretty sure Jesus would point out that the people in the waiting room are the same people the community leaders see every day at school functions, churches and grocery stores and that the people on the presumed top of the social ladder are no closer to God than the people on the bottom.  That’s assuming he would even acknowledge such a foolish concept to begin with.

Rocks on the Road and Rocks in Our Heads

Some of  life’s  toughest lessons are the ones we learn the hard way.

Some of life’s most important lessons are the ones we sometimes never learn at all.

And some of life’s simplest lessons are the ones we often just ignore  – like the problem with rocks in the road.

As a bicyclist, I ride an average of at least 10 miles a day. Because of that, I ride over a lot of rocks. For the most part, I don’t even realize the rocks are there. But every once in a while, my tire hits a rock and – due to speed or angle – I get knocked off course and sometimes even knocked down. Getting knocked down hurts, and sometimes the resulting injuries even leave scars.

Because of that, when I do notice a rock, I try to avoid it. And when there are a lot of rocks, I might even change course.

That’s life on my bike.

But I’ve noticed a lot of “rocks on the road” in the rest of my life too.

These rocks are often comments or actions that people believe are completely normal and appropriate. But to the nearby traveler on the road of life, those same words or actions may be slightly offensive or, at worst, hurtful.  Sometimes they can also cause people to change course or fall down.

Just the other day, I was having coffee with a colleague who told me that years ago she had come to my office to talk about the possibility of interning with me.  When she dropped by for the unscheduled visit, she was told I was in a meeting but that I was just with my intern and could be interrupted.

That one word “just” was enough to make her turn around and walk out the door. She didn’t want to be “just an intern.”

To be honest, I think I might have been the person who told her not to worry, and she changed the story to make me feel better.  I don’t remember, but regardless of who said it, the word “just” became a rock in her life’s road.

Fortunately, for my colleague, her change of course is working for her. But she also had the advantage of already having several life successes under her belt. She could handle that rock.

I worry more about people who have so many rocks in their road that they can’t avoid them:  people who have been knocked down so many times that they don’t trust that the road ahead gets any  easier. Sometimes they’ve fallen so much, they have permanent scars.

Instead of helping clear the road, many of us are busy putting more rocks in their way. Sometimes those rocks are too big to move or go around. 

For the most part, I don’t think we are doing this on purpose. But, at times, I think we are, especially when we make judgments about people whose circumstances we know nothing about. That’s when we become victim of the rocks in our heads.

I’ve noticed a trend of people posting comments online that belittle others who are “on welfare” or “on food stamps” or that make assumptions about people based on appearance.  I don’t know which is the bigger rock: those comments or the bitter ones about people with expensive shoes, phones or cars who are receiving some sort of government assistance.

Here’s the deal. I, like most people I know, don’t believe that government assistance should be a permanent way of life. I also don’t believe that government assistance should be used for anything but basic needs. And I don’t believe smart phones and SUV’s are basic needs. I also agree that some people manipulate the system, and that we need to be diligent about stopping such abuse.

However, I also know that most people who receive assistance have fallen on hard times. Some may have previously afforded a lifestyle that included expensive clothes and cars. But then they lost their job or faced another crisis that caused them to deplete all their available resources, including help from friends and family.  After that, they were forced to seek public assistance. That expensive car may be all they have left after losing their home, a spouse or a way of life.

Instead of assuming the rocks in their road are their own fault, maybe we should think about how we can pick some up, roll them out of the way or help these individuals navigate a new course.

Doing this follows the simplest life lesson:  do unto others as we wish them to do to us.  I know if and when I hit tough times, I don’t want to ridiculed and/or blamed.

But this lesson is so simple that a lot of us ignore it when convenient. Or until there’s a rock in our own road. Or until we get the judgmental rocks out of heads.

Unfortunately, sometimes those rocks in our heads are harder to get rid of than the rocks in our roads.