How to Avoid Paternalism

In our discussions of relief and rehabilitation, we need to also discuss how we can avoid paternalism. Paternalism is, in essence, doing things for people that they can do for themselves. We should avoid it like the plague. As our resource puts it: “Avoid Paternalism. Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves. Memorize this, recite it under your breath all day long, and wear it like a garland around your neck.”

We as CAPS staff should have this posted anywhere we work. We recently had a situation in which we refused relief for a potential client because during the assessment it was discovered that the individual was adept at finding ways to get her bills paid by others. Even though there was a previous crisis, there were personal resources that were not being utilized causing a dependence on charity. Our role then can only be to provide other resources and prayer. To enable a continuance of dependence upon others could only hurt in the long run.

It could be that in the past those experiencing poverty could have developed actions, habits really, that promote paternalism. They could possibly have had little or no experience in taking care of themselves and taking responsibility for their own shelter and food, creating a dependence upon others. We also speak with clients who have experienced life changes through no fault of their own, causing distress and confusion when trying to deal with normal activities. We here at CAPS try to navigate the difference between being unable to move forward with decisions, or the lack of motivation to move in a forward direction. 

Pray against our human desire to parent the lost and hurting. The very best parent is God our Father through His Son Jesus. Poverty alleviation is most successful when the needs of the whole person:  physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and material, are met. Consider walking with just one person who is lost or hurting to guide them in the direction complete, holistic healing.