Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When Values and Wants Collide

Over the past while, as I've written on this blog of going from one crisis to another, someone has occasionally contacted me to offer help.

Each time, I've felt conflicted about accepting that offer.

Daphne and I began economicus ridiculous for the primary purpose1 of enlightening people about what life looks like when viewed from the bottom of the poverty well. Our purpose was never to gain sympathy or help for ourselves.

Through our work with WISE, we saw how effective the deeply personal could be in changing people's minds or waking them from apathy. The stark brutal facts of our stories and those of the other women of WISE angered readers to the point of moving some to action. While WISE folded in late 2006 due to lack of funding through Status of Women Canada (thank you, Stephen Harper), Daphne and I didn't fold. Our lives continued as they were, with one difference: our anger was deeper, stronger, and stoked a furious determination not to allow our voices to be silenced. We would continue advocating for change, but now on our own.

On this blog and in our other writings, Daphne and I press on in the same style. We continue to be as brutally honest with our readers, and with ourselves, as we were when we told our stories for the first time through WISE.

Yours truly does not always succeed. I'm the quintessential introvert and baring all leaves me feeling terribly vulnerable and usually shaking until the writing is many hours or days in the past. Still, I expose the deeply personal in order to slam home the message that living like this is brutal and nasty. My writing is always about getting that message out.

When readers respond with offers of help, I reflexively feel that my voice has been diminished or the larger point somehow missed. I know intellectually this hasn't happened with the women whose offers I did accept (and, make no mistake, I've been grateful for the items provided); but I can't help but be apprehensive of the danger of economicus ridiculous no longer being taken seriously because one or both of its writers occasionally gets help from a reader.

I don't know if I've explained this conflict well and fear unintentionally offending people I don't want to offend. But I've decided against accepting help in the future from people who know me only through my writing or online contact.

I understand how people could be moved by some of my recent posts to the point of wanting to help. But I would rather they took what I have written and used it as their impetus to help, perhaps in a similar way, someone they already know or a stranger who lives nearby2; and/or to advocate, or advocate more, for change in all the ways they can imagine.


1A secondary purpose behind the blog was to share tips on getting by on next to nothing.
2Always ask if help is wanted before giving it and what type of help is desired. Accept the response without judgement or argument. Many of the desperately poor have the most basic of wants, often unrelated to physical need. A cup of coffee and conversation, for example, could make someone's week, precisely because the coffee is a treat not a necessity, and the conversation validates their humanity. Regardless, you're not obliged, simply in the asking, to follow through and provide the requested item or service.