Not all of the readers of this column are Judeo-Christian, but I am going to use a Judeo-Christian philosophical premise from this point on. The book of Genesis tells us that human beings are created in the image of God. What exactly does that mean? For purposes of this column, the aspect of God that is important is that he is the creator. In fact, creating is so fundamental to God that some people use the term creator synonymously with God. So, we know that human beings are made to be creators. Even non-Christian researchers have discovered the importance of creation to human flourishing. When is our creativity most quelled? When we allow ourselves to be in a position of unnecessary dependence.
Alcoholics Anonymous and many other programs that assist people with life challenges make a distinction between helping and enabling. They define helping as “doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves.” Enabling is doing for someone things that they could — and should be — doing themselves. Enabling doesn’t just happen with alcoholics. The term is used in any area where someone is allowed to continue in a behavior that is ultimately self-destructive. The enabler prevents the individual from experiencing the consequences of his action. Finally, this person is robbed of his human dignity. As an example, can you think of an adult you know whose parents continue to bail him out of one situation after another? Can you think of someone who has engaged in an affair and this destructive behavior was able to continue because no one who knew appropriately confronted one or both of those in the affair?
Capitalism is an economic system that is structured to help people, but not enable them. Capitalism creates conditions where everyone has an opportunity to excel. It also generates surplus capital so that there is plenty of money left over to create and maintain charitable organizations.
Let’s consider some examples of the difference between help and enabling. If a person is born disabled, it might be the case that that individual will need the necessities of life provided to him throughout his lifetime. The primary responsibility for that support begins with the child’s parents. These parents will be assisted by friends and family. Because of our human compassion, charitable organizations will arise to help. These range from the Children’s Association for Maximum Potential, which works with children with disabilities and their families through a variety of programs to Easter Seals, which provides exceptional services to ensure that all people with disabilities have equal opportunity to live, learn, work and play. The government will also provide assistance through the school system where special teachers and other resources will be made available to support the disabled school child.
Very few people, though, experience a lifetime of disability. Most of us fall on hard times for a variety of reasons and for various lengths of time. As I mentioned last month, various forms of insurance exist to provide support for unexpected calamities — a house that burns down, a car accident, the death of an income provider. Where we as a society may be enabling, rather than helping, are some of the hard times that fall in between a permanent disability and a temporary calamity.
In the next column, I will take up the contentious topic of unemployment and unemployment benefits. We will see that some length of unemployment benefit helps. Benefits that are extended for too long actually enable, ultimately hurting both the benefit recipient and the benefit giver.
Eric B. Dent, a Lumberton resident, is a business professor at Fayetteville State University.