Not another HOBO! — Vivienne Schultz

Optimum Human

A new monthly column by social entrepreneur and A2B Transformation Group founder Vivienne Schultz.

We are called to be salt and light — simple metaphors that point to the change that should surround us wherever we go.

HOBO = Hand Out then Burn Out

We can all be forgiven for misunderstanding this calling and feeling we are called to be givers. Our consumer culture demands that we see humans as receivers; as customers and consumers. This diminishes true, deep-seated transformation into a transaction where we are the givers of stuff to receivers whose lives are supposed to be better off after we have given them something.

Let me challenge that mode of thinking with the story of Joan Wright, a real changemaker in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector. She learnt how not to become a HOBO (Hand Out, then Burn Out) the hard way.

Joan tells her story
“With my bakkie full of equipment, mattresses and stationery from kind donors, I set off for the community-based early childhood development (ECD) centres with a sense of purpose and well-being.

“I believe I am making a difference; I am changing lives; I am empowering.

“My asset-based community workshop a week before had gone particularly well and I am confident that I will see much of what we had made and experienced at the workshop, in use on my visits to the various centres. With a song in my heart, I headed down the freeway.

[P]overty is not a cause of problems. It is an effect. The cause of poverty is a lack of responsiveness, or what we call, lack of Occupational Intelligence.

“At the first ECD, the chant of ‘mlungu, mlungu’ greeted me. I eagerly looked around for signs of last Saturday’s workshop being put into practice, but could not see anything. Must have missed it in the loud, warm welcome and ensuing hugs, I imagined.

“We off-loaded what was earmarked for this particular ECD and then get down to finding out just how their learning was being implemented: ‘Ah sister, no time for it this week. My one teacher is not here, and I must cook the lunch now. Next week, we will do it. Also the puzzles you gave us, the children lost it, so I am not going to use it. But we really need glue now and chairs, sister. Can’t work without glue and we must have new chairs.’

“At the next centre, I find a similar situation just a different set of reasons and other broken toys from a previous handout.

“The last ECD visit of the morning yielded fruit — and a sigh of relief on my part, with much of what I had taught having been implemented.

“The drive home gave me time for reflection. I realised that I was just the delivery vehicle providing quick-fix solutions to what I perceived to be the needs. Quite an arrogant stance! I felt embarrassed and humbled by this realisation.

“Over the next year, I journeyed with this group of six ECD centres. We connected on a personal level and trust developed. We shared feelings, laughed and cried together, shared dreams and hopes and connected as women, as humans.

“And yet, after all the training and making of equipment and the learning of why and how to utilise this effectively, there was no movement. How many times did one have to explain? How much clearer could it be? Why this disjuncture?”

When our help is not helping
I guess that many well-intentioned Christians share these frustrations with Joan.

If we help in hand-out ways, we give them the message: “You can’t, somebody else can!” This helps only to push these humans deeper into dependency.

It is indeed very, very hard to face reality when we discover that our help is not helping.

The mistake Joan made — and has started to rectify recently — is that poverty is not a cause of problems. It is an effect. The cause of poverty is a lack of responsiveness, or what we call, lack of occupational intelligence.

If humans feel unsafe and believe that they are not able to change their own circumstances, no change or transformation is possible. They are trapped in impulsive fight, flight or freeze response and resist going out of their comfort zone. If we help in hand-out ways, we give them the message: “You can’t, somebody else can!” This helps only to push these humans deeper into dependency.

“I am unable to help myself. I need these good people to give me more stuff so my problems can be solved,” is the mindset.

Renewal of the mind? For sure not! Rather the opposite!

There are no winners in this scenario, only losers. The giver of assistance will always be idolised, and the receivers will resent themselves and feel like beggars. The real issues of inferiority will never be addressed. Nobody will experience the feel-good flush of happy hormones that we get when we realise we have achieved a solution to a problem.

Become a provoker of change! Here are a few practical tips:

1. Stop helping!
Immediately stop giving hand-outs. Every time you solve a problem for a human, you are pushing them into dependency. Instead, ignite the human’s will to creatively respond to the challenge at hand. This is called provoking their volition.

You may need to first wean yourself from the hand-outs of others and then get tooled-up. The A2B Transformation Movement can help with that.

2. Start with yourself
Why do you want to help? Do you know what it means to help?

Are you motivated by any racial or political sensitivities; do you have tolerance for dependent behaviour, belief systems, religions, rituals and music at odds with your preferences?

Our desired end-result should be the optimisation of the humans in front of us. Sometimes we need to face a hard truth: We help because it makes us feel good, not primarily because we believe in the power and potential of God’s creation in front of us to develop abilities to help themselves in the same way we do.

Unless we start on a change journey ourselves where we engage with our own limiting beliefs, we have nothing valuable to offer.

Practical tips:
1. Stop helping!
2. Start with yourself
3. Provoke change, because you can’t bring change
4. A Christian switches on the light — they are provocateurs of volition

3. Provoke change, because you can’t bring change
We need to become transformative provocateurs who deeply understand how to provoke, or instigate, broken humans to move towards independence and self-sustaining resilience.

Humans’ minds are restored when they realise that they have the power to respond to their own challenges in able ways. That is how God made us all. So, whenever you find yourself, or your work, or your good-willed attempts to help coming into focus, step back! Get out of the way. Passionately provoke and ignite people to solve their own problems.

4. A Christian switches on the light — they are provocateurs of volition
The provocateur’s job is to assist (crutch) beneficiaries so they can discover how to take ownership and to solve their own challenges — and this is done without creating dependency on external solutions.

We need to learn to position ourselves neither as experts who want to offer solutions, nor as easy-to-manipulate saviour ‘suckers’ with bleeding hearts. On this middle ground we can be steadfast and have the nerve to tackle difficult people dynamics promptly and head-on, yet respectfully and with PPP (passion for people’s potential).

True, deep-seated change does not happen in academic studies — not even Bible studies. The studying may give us new ways to think about our challenges, but it is only in learning how to ably respond (response-ABLE) to real-life tasks and challenges that people change.

If you, therefore, want to provoke change, you need to become an expert in crafting learning situations in real life. Engage your clients in economically viable tasks and provide learning opportunities where clients can earn while they learn.

Wanting to know more? Come and check out radical change where it happens

Next article we will give more practical ideas and tools to help you optimise the value of the humans around you through value exchange programmes

One Comment

  1. Jean Knighton-Fitt

    Thank you -VERY apropos for the questions we are asking at our church at this very moment.