You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling the wage payer down. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot build character and courage by taking away people’s initiative and independence. You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves.
This statement has been making the rounds of social media lately, apparently as proof that self reliance, is good, being critical of the rich is bad, and the poor, well they should just accept their lot. It has been erroneously and repeatedly credited to Abraham Lincoln. William Boetcker was a Presbyterian pastor, political conservative and speaker who lived from 1873 to 1962. Boetcker’s quote got credited to Lincoln, and Lincoln’s to Boetcker through an editing error in a Conservative political leaflet printed in 1942. Lincoln’s actual quote was “Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.” Boetcker’s quote was used by Ronald Reagan who credited it to Lincoln, and a legend was born.
I first saw the quote on Facebook with a note of it being shared through a conservative group. I did a perfunctory fact check, but didn’t go far enough to see who actually wrote what is called The Ten Cannots. I then proceeded to write a detailed deconstruct of the quote, looking at it from a more social equality frame of mind. After writing and editing, I did one more bit of research. I wanted to see when Lincoln actually said it, and in what format. That is when I realized my and many other’s folly. I had fallen into the “just because its on the internet, then it must be true.” fallacy.
I broke that rule. Thankfully I caught my mistake in time. The deconstruct of the quote still stands. I’ve just learned more about our 16th president, and how easy it is to just accept bad information at face value. Learning about our history, is always a good thing.
So on to the deconstruct:
YOU CANNOT HELP THE POOR BY DESTROYING THE RICH.
We live n a world where a large segment of the population exists on a daily income of less of the cost of a McDonald’s happy meal. The rich, and they are in far fewer numbers then the poor, hold most of the world’s wealth. We don’t want to destroy them, we just ask that they are more willing to use their resources to help alleviate suffering, poverty and lack of opportunity. They can invest in their businesses, paying decent wages, providing safe working conditions. They can invest in education, so that more people can find the skills needed for better paying jobs, or to start their own businesses. They can develop and implement technologies for safer, cleaner, cheaper energy sources and better infrastructures, affordable medicine, quality affordable housing. The rich can help enrich others
YOU CANNOT STRENGTHEN THE WEAK BY WEAKENING THE STRONG.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When we disregard the weaker among us, or perceive them as a threat to our strengths, then we weaken us all. Who are the weak? The refugee, the mourning, the sick, the poor, the discarded. Only by recognizing the less able among us, helping them, giving comfort and sustenance, keeping them safe, allowing them every opportunity can we hope to keep society whole.
YOU CANNOT BRING ABOUT PROSPERITY BY DISCOURAGING THRIFT.
Developed nations contain some of the least thrifty people on the planet. What we squander in resources, time and energy is mind blowing. We have more food in our individual pantries than found in some third world villages. The truly thrifty are the ones with little. They have no choice. Its either watch every penny, every morsel, every moment of every day, or know disaster. They have no savings account, or extra change in a jar. There is, hopefully, enough to for the day.
YOU CANNOT LIFT THE WAGE EARNER UP BY PULLING THE WAGE PAYER DOWN.
Yes its true, toss out the wage payer, and no one has a job. But again, there is more to the story. We are in a repeated trend, where the income gap between employer and employee is growing . In the quest for higher profits, some large employers have kept wages low, and working conditions less than ideal. Wages have stagnated or dropped, forcing many to depend on their governments for help with food, shelter or medical care. As a result, employees, end up subsidizing wages through taxes that they pay out of their own incomes.
YOU CANNOT FURTHER THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN BY INCITING CLASS HATRED
We have yet to eradicate the social ailment of class hatred. Racial and cultural bigotry is not only alive and well, but it is vocal, defensive and sometimes quite violent. The conflicts in Asia, and in parts of Africa display some of the more extreme cases of class hatred. In more peaceful nations, class hatred still simmers, mostly just under the surface. For some heinous reason hatred is a mindset that is sadly encouraged in some political and religious circles.
YOU CANNOT BUILD CHARACTER AND COURAGE BY TAKING AWAY PEOPLE’S INITIATIVE AND INDEPENDENCE.
People in US history, whom we consider possessing character and courage, themselves enslaved others. People, we consider having character and courage in our history disenfranchised and restricted the initiative and independence of the indigenous people of this land. What kind of character or courage do we ourselves possess when we tell someone, “No, you cannot become a citizen, like me. You have to meet this long list of qualifications, then wait for longer than you may live.” Or “No, you cannot get married, like us. Your gender pairing is offensive.” or “No, you cannot build a house of worship here. You are of the wrong religion.”?
We besmirch our character and our courage when we promote or condone such things.
YOU CANNOT HELP PEOPLE PERMANENTLY BY DOING FOR THEM, WHAT THEY COULD AND SHOULD DO FOR THEMSELVES
This is so misunderstood, and often badly misused. We should encourage self reliance, but also ask to what extend do we allow people to struggle before we offer aid? Its easy to call those less fortunate than us lazy, stupid, leeches. The reality for many is, effort is just not enough. For too many, life is not enough; not enough education, job opportunities, easy access to food or medicine, support from local communities. It also means a lot of too much; too much violence, too many barriers, too much exhaustion and despair, too many unwilling to help, too much blame shoved, undeserved onto their shoulders.
Boetcker’s statement should prompt us to ask. Are possessions more important than people? Are the wealthy more important, more valuable than the poor? Exactly who is our neighbor? Is it wrong to want everyone to enjoy comfort, peace and success? How courageous or moral is it to expect the downtrodden, the destitute, the desperate to do without? Since when has hatred of others been a good thing? Is anyone asking these questions?