Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Self-Reliance, Prosperity, Wealth, and Control--George's Post

I.           Self-Reliance, Prosperity, Wealth, and Control

A.   Self-Reliance Principles

1.    Introduction

Over the last several years, the Church has developed, and just launched, a major initiative to help African members become self-reliant.   To help members become self-reliant, the Church has recently released a new highly interactive program outlined in five short booklets.[1]   This push is not surprising given the pervasiveness of poverty throughout much of Africa and the fact that many members struggle to make ends meet.   Members are constantly under pressure to provide the basic needs for their families--often parents and children do not have enough to eat, lack basic shelter, do not have money for school fees; and, as a consequence, members frequently look to the Church, government agencies and charitable groups for aid to bridge the tough times.   The reasons for these situations are complex, defying easy explanations, and may differ from family to family and from country to country; yet at the core many of the problems are attributable in part to one or more of following macro-level factors: the lack of employment opportunities generating sufficient levels of income; the decimation of basic family units—traditionally the source of family security—owing to high mortality rates, births of children outside of the bonds of marriage, and intertribal warfare and ethnic cleansing; the reliance of local, regional or, in some cases, national economies upon subsistence farming and the low and erratic yields from such farming practices due to poor crop rotation, lack of access to commercial seeds, fertilizers and weed control products, weather conditions, and other factors; and, the existence of a culture of dependence among the poor and underprivileged. 
The crowning importance of “self-reliance” as a core principle of the restored gospel is tied, in part, to other related principles:
(i)                The importance of personal independence--not being reliant upon others for one’s well-being;
(ii)              The crowning importance of the principle of “work” in the restored gospel;[2]
(iii)             The obligation of parents to provide the basic necessities for their children—food, shelter, security and educational opportunities;[3]
(iv)             The responsibility of families to take care of their own in the event of unexpected setbacks and emergencies;
(v)              The need to wean members from a feeling of “dependence” upon others or “entitlement” that may have grown up over time due to prior aid;[4] and
(vi)             The stewardship each has to manage what the Lord has blessed him with for the benefit of his own family and others.[5]
Christ was clear about our duty to attend to the needs of the poor and needy—we are to feed them, clothe them, and provide shelter—and our salvation is dependent, in part, upon our generosity in doing so.[6]   The need for such charity is not new, since the poor have been, and always will be, with us.[7]    No doubt how we respond to the challenges of the poor is certainly a measure of our humanity and charity—in one sense, it is more about us than it is about the poor.  Are we willing to give of our time and means to help others not of our blood and flesh?   We are commanded to be charitable and generous—to love one another—and not to turn away another in need—even if their needs are of their own making.[8]   Moreover, we are not excused of that just because the Church itself, through its welfare program, may provide temporary assistance.[9]   We should never think of the Church’s welfare as satisfying our own obligation of charity.

2.    What is self-reliance?

Sister Julie B. Beck, the Church General Relief Society President, defines “self-reliance” as follows:  “Self-reliance means using all of our blessings from Heaven Father to care for ourselves and our families and to find solutions for our own problems.”[10]   She further states:  “Work is a foundational principle of self-reliance.”    Using this definition (or others that may be similar), we can think of “self-reliance” as having the following defining characteristics:
(i)                First, being “self-reliant” means accepting, first and foremost, “personal responsibility” for taking care of the well-being of ourselves and our families and for seeking solutions to the problems we do face in life and not looking to others to provide for such care or such solutions.   In today’s society, the phrase “accepting responsibility” is so commonly employed and bandied about by athletes, politicians, corporate executives, as to have cheapened its import.   “Accepting responsibility,” when truly felt, is a genuine, heart-felt expression that one, and not someone else, is “responsible” for some conduct.   If things don’t go right, the one responsible is “responsible” for the mistakes—i.e., takes the blame, “responsible” for making necessary reparations, and “responsible” for finding solutions.   Neither blame, nor the obligation to recompense, nor the responsibility for finding for solutions is shifted to another.  It is impossible to have real “self-reliance” in place, until one has internalized the belief that he ultimately accountable for his own affairs.   That attitude is at the heart of “self-reliance,” and drives everything else—the desire to be prepared to “be” self-reliant; the drive to find “solutions” to one’s problems when they invariably arise; and, the commitment to use personal resources to provide for one’s own well-being rather than to use those of other people.  
When we speak of “well-being” in the context of self-reliance, we generally have in mind “material” well-being—i.e., the satisfaction of basic human needs.   The concept of “self-reliance” must, of necessity, include the belief of “being responsible” for finding solutions to problems.   Life is not static; the needs of the family are constantly changing; circumstances not anticipated will arise.   If one is “self-reliant,” one is committed to finding, on one’s own, likely through new investments, solutions to future problems.
(ii)              Second, those who have internalized the desire to be “self-reliant” discharge that sense of personal responsibility by assembling and developing both internal and external resources to allow one to care for oneself and one’s family.   It takes time to develop suitable resources.     Hence, those who are “self-reliant” are constantly in the process of developing, refining and finding new resources to address the needs of the family.   It goes without saying that the needs of a family today are not the same as the needs of a family in five, ten or twenty years.   The urge to be “independent” requires constant adjustments in one’s plan.   The reason for assembling appropriate resources is to allow the family to be “independent,” a primary goal of “self-reliance.”   “Internal resources” are those resources that we develop within ourselves—experience, training, skills and talents, together with outward evidence of those accomplishments, such as educational degrees, business experience, diplomas, certificates, public awards and recognitions, and the like.  “External resources” are those resources that we assemble, mostly tangible in form, that can be used by us, usually with little if any consent from others, to provide for the well-being of ourselves and families.  Common examples of external assets include property, cash, investments, insurance policies, food storage, or other material possessions convertible into liquid assets or useable to address basic needs of life.
(iii)              Third, “self-reliance” requires that the “available” resources (internal and external) actually be applied to provide for ourselves rather than asking or allowing others to provide resources to care of us.        
Two of the three defining characteristics of “self-reliance” are under our control.   We control our attitude—whether we feel “responsible” or “accountable” for ourselves, or whether we are prepared to let others take care of us.   Second, we control whether we “use” available resources for our care.  
What may be less under our control is both the “development” of resources and whether developed resources are in fact available when needed.   For example, in an instant, the resources upon which we rely to support our self-reliance (whether “internal” or “external” resources) can be damaged, lost or compromised or diminished in value, leaving us “dependent” upon others when we thought we had done all one could reasonably do to be “independent.”     Men and women can have strokes, depriving them suddenly of their mental capacities; property can be damaged, destroyed or stolen; changes in the stock markets can, in a day, dramatically reduce the value of one’s investment portfolio.   Some of such changes may be due to events over which we have no control—health, the agency of others, macro-economic events—while others may be attributable to our bad or ill-advised decisions.   What one must keep in mind is that of “prudence.”   Life has unavoidable uncertainties, and even the most carefully designed hedging strategies may prove inadequate.    There is only so much any of us can do to keep at bay certain misfortunes, accidents, events, and calamities.   All that is expected of us is to act “prudently.”

[1] The booklets are entitled “My Path to Self Reliance,” “My Foundation: Principles, Skills, Habits;” “My Job Search;” “Education for Better Work;” and “Starting and Growing My Business.”
[2] See, for example, Gen: 3: 19.   “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for duty thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”   Mormons certainly think of “work” as praiseworthy and valuable, even if, owing to one’s financial wealth, one did not need to “work” to provide for one’s family.
[3] See Mosiah 4: 14.  “And ye will not suffer your children that they should go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.”
[4] See “Aid Dependence and Feelings of Entitlement,” supra.
[5] Men should use the resources with which they have been blessed to bless the lives of others.   See “_______________.”
[6] See “__________________________.”
[7] See John 12: 7-8.  “Then said Jesus, Let he alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.   For the poor always he have with you:; but me ye have not always.”
[8] See James 2: 14-18 and Mosiah 4:14-20.   See also the discussion under “_____________________.”
[9] See the discussion under “_____________________.”
[10] See Julie B. Beck, “The Welfare Responsibilities of the Relief Society President,” Basic Principles of Welfare and Self Reliance, (2009), 4-6.