For all those who exhort the disadvantaged to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps", I ask that you take your damn bootstraps and shove them up your nose.
If you examine the origins of the phrase, they are rooted in variants of a tall tale (generally the Baron von Munchausen stories) where the protagonist finds himself in over his head, either in quicksand or a body of water, and he saves himself by bending down, taking hold of his bootstraps, and lifting himself up and out of his predicament. In other words, because this is a tall tale, he is doing something that is physically impossible--just like the actions of one Australian folk hero who cuts up mine shafts and sells them as post holes.
Telling someone who is in a disadvantaged state to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" is demeaning and dismissive. It assumes resources not in evidence, and places blame upon the person for their status. I see these assumptions made all the time, and it annoys the hell out of me. Let me share one small anecdote that illustrates why I feel this way:
Client T is a disabled woman in her fifties. Her monthly benefits are so low that she can only afford to live in an area that has high levels of crime. Because she is disabled, small-bodied, and female, she has been the target of robbery at least twice--and was beaten up both times, once very badly. When applying for a program that would help her pay for something she needed, she was asked to submit a photocopy of some paperwork.
It may be difficult to imagine that a photocopy would be a sticking point, but think about this:
- She is disabled, and cannot walk to the nearest place that has a photocopier--even if there were a place close by, which there isn't.
- She does not have a car, as they are expensive, and she is legally blind regardless.
- Take the bus?
- Okay, so how does she know the bus schedule?
- I've heard people say, "Oh she can go online". No, she can't. She's destitute. She doesn't have a computer nor could she afford internet even if she did.
- She can get them at the library, of course, but how does she get to the library? The bus? And thus we have a repeating loop. Yes, she can call the bus office and ask them; my personal experience with doing that was pretty frustrating, though. And she still has to come up with the money for the bus.
- Cabs are RIGHT out. She takes a cab, she doesn't eat that week.
- And, leaving the house can be problematic for her, because she is fearful of and at risk for being robbed and beaten again.
One solution, of course, is for the agency requiring the photocopy to acknowledge that it isn't a completely simple matter for everyone, and to help her in getting that photocopy, either by sending over a social worker with a portable copier (as my friend Nancy does when she helps people do their HEAP applications), or by simply requesting a fax or digital copy from the paperwork's originating agency.
Sometimes, folks, we need to lend a hand to people instead of kicking sand in their faces when they are down. We need to acknowledge that taking care of disadvantaged people is not a waste of resources; it is what makes us human. Survival of the fittest is NOT a human trait; it is beastly and cowardly. It is when we care for one another that we advance and evolve.