The idea of a fair society is, like many other terms, something that means something different to different people. Words can change meaning over time and can mean different things within different communities.
One classic example is the word prevent. This at one time meant to go before. Today it means to stop something happening. Another is the story told in Winston Churchill’s memoirs of the time when the British and American delegations at a post-WW2 conference had a disagreement. Someone finally talked to both sides and worked out what had happened. Each delegation had understand something quite different from the phrase table a motion. Explain to both sides what the other meant by that phrase and the disagreement was resolved.
Getting what you deserve
One obvious idea is you get what you deserve. You did something good and you get the sort of reward you want. You did something bad and you get the sort of reward you did not want. It is simple cause and effect. Something happens and there is a response. This is so normal and natural even obvious that we easily overlook it.
Work hard and make wise decisions and you will prosper i.e. simple cause and effect. Not everyone works hard so they do not get the same results.Not everyone has the ability to make wise decisions. They may not know enough or be unable to resist the forces pulling them away from wise choices. Maybe that is why Jesus says that the poor you will always have with you.
The answer to that is to help people learn what they need to know to make wise decisions. Another is to help them overcome the forces that are pulling them away from wise decisions. For someone with a background in biblical healing and prayer counselling this means working together with God to restore people from the inside out.
Importance of wisdom
Gain the ability to work hard and make wise decisions and the causes of poverty will be dealt with. Deal with the causes of poverty and prosperity becomes possible. Poverty means lack, not just of money but many other things as well. Prosperity also means being successful in a variety of areas.
This idea of knowing enough to make wise decisions also impacts those who help others. What is our instant reaction to someone who is hungry? Is it to give them money? If you give them money they might spend it on something you do not want them to spend it on such as alcohol. Do you give them food? If so what sort? Something hot to have immediately? Something they can put in their bag to have later?
Do you take a longer term approach and work with them to resolve the issues that have led to them not having enough food? Things such as money management to help stretch what they have, finding a job, dealing with the issues that are stopping them working, support to overcome addictions that swallow money mercilessly.
You could start with the problem and keep on asking why until you get to the root cause. Why don’t they have enough food? Is it because they struggle to get to the shops or because they do not have enough money? Different causes require different responses to deal with them.
Pursue this to the next level and ask why cannot they get to the shops. If the response to that is that they have injured themselves it would demand a different response to the car is off the road because they cannot afford to get it repaired.
Used wisely the exploration of why why why can reveal some interesting issues. Solve the underlying issues and life can become very different. However, if the underlying issues are not resolved then both the helper and the one receiving help can get very hurt.
Why hurt? If someone does not receive the help they need or that help is presented in the wrong way they will not get the results they want. The aim of trying to help someone is to produce a positive change in their life. If the helper does not see a positive change then they end up being at least disappointed if not worse.
Back on the path again to a fair society
Oops sorry for the bunny trail but that idea of looking at the underlying causes is something that is important to me. You cannot solve a problem on a permanent basis unless you deal with the root causes.
Fair in one sense means being treating everyone in exactly the same way. In another it means treating others in the way that helps them the most so providing everyone with the greatest amount of effective positive support possible.
Giving everyone who did not have food a fridge containing food might seem a good idea. However, what about those who did not have a house to put it in or a power supply to plug it into. That seemingly good solution just won’t work for them because of their situation.
What about the non-poor i.e. the rest of us?
I wonder did you think that my idea of a fair society would include something about taking from the haves in the form of taxes and and giving it to the have nots in the form of benefits. There is a big flaw in that idea. It is like trying to fill a bath by turning on the taps and not putting the plug in properly. When water is both going in and out at the same time how can the bath ever fill up.
Give money to the poor and unless they make wise decisions it will end up back in the hands of the rich and the poor will stay poor. They will buy food and the supermarket will get rich. They will rent a house and the landlord will get rich. Unless they become the one selling the food or renting the house they will never become rich.
Another dimension to a fair society
A fair society is not just about helping the poor overcome he reasons why they are the have nots. It is about encouraging the haves not to fleece the have nots and operating using the principles of what some call compassionate capitalism. It means those who make money do so in a decent and honourable fashion.
Done right a business provides much needed jobs in a decent environment where people are treated well. Done wrong people toil day and night in sweat shop for very little pay. Done right consumers are offered products that are fit for purpose and safe to use. Done wrong machines break down or worse catch fire. Done right businesses make good use of waste products even making new desirable items out of them. Done wrong they destroy the environment.
Bringing it full circle
I did have one crazy idea about how to develop a fair society. What you do is to reach down and give the poor a hand up. You then show them how to become prosperous. You don’t stop there though. In the process of helping the poor move towards being the rich you help them develop the character and principles needed to become compassionate capitalists.
Those compassionate capitalists treat their workers well. In the UK we have a number of model villages built by employers for their workers. These include New Lanark in Scotland, Saltaire in Yorkshire and Bourneville in the midlands. Yes they might not have been perfect but imperfect attempts at doing good are a lot better that total lack of concern and putting people in harm’s way.
Those compassionate capitalists use the values that they have learnt to help build a world that God can be proud of. One that reflects scriptural principles and godly values.
It is not a them versus us situation, The politics of jealousy are banished. It is everyone working for the good of everyone else. That is what I would like to see.
Working towards that kind of ideal society is also what I believe is a crucial role of the church.In fact I am not sure if any other organisation can do it because it involves the sort of character development and personal restoration that is its speciality.