Parable of the pauper

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by Terry Camsey, Major –

by Major Terry CamseyI was intrigued a few years ago to read the story of a young boy in Australia. He was five years old at the time and his friends decided to tease him.

It seems that there were, in circulation at that time, coins worth one dollar and two dollars apiece. The two-dollar coin was smaller than the one-dollar coin. The young boy’s friends offered him a choice between the two coins and he could keep whichever he selected.

He looked at both coins, noting that one was bigger than the other—chose the larger one-dollar coin.

His friends laughed about this among themselves and thought the youngster was stupid. Thereafter, they couldn’t resist any opportunity of repeating the offer to the same young boy, but in front of other kids. Every time, the youngster took the one-dollar coin.

On one occasion, an older person happened to see this exchange happen. He told the youngster the mistake he was making in taking the larger (one-dollar) coin when the smaller one (the two-dollar coin) was worth twice as much.

“I know,” said the youngster, “but how many times would they have offered me the choice if I had taken the smaller coin!”

He was no fool! And obviously made much more money in the long run by constantly choosing the larger coin. He wasn’t being “had”…the other boys were!

I am enjoying re-reading William Booth’s epic work, In Darkest England and the Way Out, published in 1890. The Darkest England Scheme, according to The History of The Salvation Army, ultimately became the Social Wing of The Salvation Army. What an incredible vision, building upon “The Cab Horse Charter” as the “ideal for existence”…every cab horse in London at that time having three things: “a shelter for the night, food for its stomach, and work allotted to it by which it can earn its corn.” Booth’s dream was for every person to have the same minimum benefits; so all three aspects were addressed in Booth’s scheme.

One thing Booth was insistent on, however, was that he did not want to have any hand in creating a new “center of demoralization.” He did not want his “customers” to be pauperized (made permanently dependent on charity by “being treated to anything that they did not earn”). He wanted to develop self-respect in people by planting their feet firmly on the ladder that leads upwards. In short (and to quote him) in exchange for food and shelter he wanted labor. To make this possible, Booth was prepared to provide work opportunities.

We have to hasten to add that he did allow for officers to make exceptions in extreme cases of need, but the general rule was “first work, then eat.” It was that which distinguished Booth’s Scheme from, as he put it, “mere charitable relief.”

Booth’s dream (utopian though it may have been) seems to be imbued with fresh relevance at a time when unemployment is one of the major social issues this country faces. Does this spell opportunity for the Army? Does it, in fact, challenge us to develop an equally grandiose scheme to address the evils of our day?

Is it desirable, even at the corps social services delivery level, to offer some form of work in exchange for food, in order to increase the self-respect/self-worth of the recipient…helping to prepare or serve a meal, stuffing envelopes, janitorial work, etc.

Somehow, in my mind, the first story I have related connects with latter comments. The young boy was not the fool his friends thought him to be. He took maximum advantage of the opportunities offered to take the money…for which he did not work. Can he be blamed?

Is there, perhaps, a parable to be explored here?

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