Handouts can be a pretty contentious term. Hopefully my next statements will help ensure that I do not increase that contention. When you saw “handout mentality” you might have thought I was referring to the material poor. Actually, I was referring to you. More on that later.
For the sake of this article, let’s define handouts as the provision of resources to people in material poverty without any expectation that the recipients will need to invest their own time or other assets in order to receive those same resources in the first place. Note: Relief or aid given to people immediately after a manmade or natural disaster would not fall under our definition of handouts.
We know that handouts as defined above can be ineffective and damaging. They can create dependency and destroy initiative in the recipients. Why develop your own talents and work to become independent when you know you will be provided for free of cost? Because of this, recipients will become chronically reliant upon their patrons and will never be able flourish themselves, let alone help their communities do the same.
There are a myriad of other reasons handouts are damaging that we could discuss, but I want to get back to you. While handouts can be destructive, it is the views that undergird handouts that are even more pernicious. To be more specific, it is how you see the people you want to help that causes the damage. This may sound tangential but it is not. It is crucial. How you view people will invariably dictate and shape your efforts to help them.
If you only and ever see people as incapable, helpless, unable to contribute, and even burdensome then your actions will naturally flow from that perspective and inform your poverty fighting efforts. You will not partner with the poor, you will patronize them. You will only see their lack, so you will give shortsightedly. This errant view of the material poor is the handout mentality.
Please do not automatically dismiss this point or see it as irrelevant to you. While you may think you do not see the material poor in such light or would never dream of doing so, subconsciously you may. When examined carefully, the causes you give to, and the way you have gone about addressing poverty will tell you a lot about how you see the poor. Given enough critical thought, you might realize you have a handout mentality.
How do we break free of this mentality? We must change our thinking so that the material poor are seen as they truly are: Created by God and fellow bearers of His image. As people full of potential and endowed with incredible, creative abilities. As savvy and entrepreneurial. As partners. As equals.
When you begin to view the poor like this, everything changes. You are no longer focused on lack, want, or deficit. You only see assets, potential, and opportunity. You see all of the enterprise and business opportunities you can support. You no longer see yourself or your institution as the answer. You realize they are the answer. You break free of your handout mentality.
Andrew Vanderput is the Strategy and Engagement Manager at PovertyCure, an initiative of the Acton Institute. Andrew comes from a diverse background in public policy, non-profits focused on international poverty, marketing, and consulting. He has long held a passion for promoting entrepreneurial solutions to poverty. He lives with his wife and two children in Grand Rapids, MI.