OPPORTUNITY AND PROGRESS
I like to play golf. I’m not very good at it, but I love to play. And I’m better today than I was last year or last month for that matter. My progress in improving my game can be attributed to a dogged determination, the ability to get out and play, and lessons from a good (and patient) professional. Three legs of the stool, opportunity, ability, and determination.
Those three foundational principles, those legs on the stool, are key to much of what we can accomplish in anything we attempt in life. But for many of those who are struggling to overcome poverty, dependence, and need those three seemingly simple principles can be overwhelmingly challenging. They can be barriers to success.
Opportunity, or access, takes many forms and presents challenges in many different ways. I am blessed in my attempts to improve my golf game that I can take the time to get out and play, afford the cost of greens fees and equipment, and that find golf courses that I can drive to and play. Access and opportunity include a way to get there, a place to go, and a reasonable expectation that the resources you possess today and get you there. So for those who are struggling the barriers can be many. Without available jobs, there can be no assurance of income. But even with available jobs, without access to transportation to get to them they might as well be on the moon.
Ability means not only education but also skill. It means that my golf pro can teach me all day how to swing a club. And on an intellectual level, I can understand how to swing a golf club. But until I can turn that knowledge into practice I will not succeed. So too with the drive to achieve stability and self-sufficiency. Education and job training programs are critical. But so is the necessity to provide transitional job training opportunities so people can transform knowledge into skill.
Determination. This is one of the most important factors in the ability to succeed. But it is also, I believe, one of the most misunderstood and the one used most by those who tear down the poor and dependent. Determination on its own is not the key. I can be determined to be a PGA Tour player, but the reality is that I cannot do what I would need to do to get there. I can’t spend 8 hours a day with a very expensive trainer and do nothing but learn how to be a great golfer. Other parts of my life limit me. And for those who are striving and working hard to move down the road to stability and self-sufficiency, just being determined is often not enough. Those who claim that if people just worked harder and longer and were more determined they could lift themselves out of poverty are deluded. Yes, people need to work hard and try, but when you are working 16 hours a day at two jobs at minimum wage just to put a roof over your kid’s heads and put food on the table, it’s maybe a little hard to do any more. Maybe after taking three buses and spending 2 hours at each end of the workday to get to work and home again; then another two buses and another hour with the kids in tow to get out of the food desert where you live and shop at a decent store it’s hard to try and do more.
That’s why the picture is three legs on a stool. The stool won’t stand unless all three legs are intact and secure. The seat won’t hold any weight unless each leg carries an equal part of it.
The government, the private sector, and the nonprofit sector are also three legs to a stool. A stool of support and programs that will help lift people from poverty, dependence, and need to stability and self-sufficiency. But again, all three legs of that stool must equally share the weight and be supportive of people’s efforts.