Boot strap ideology. We’ve all heard it. If you haven’t, let me give you a basic definition. It means having the ability to pull ones self up by “your own boot straps.” It refers to willpower and initiative. People mean well when they say this. They are saying they are taking responsibility for something and taking the initiative to make it happen on their own. Great! I’m glad they are doing so. However, I have also heard this being used in a negative, condescending tone. I’ve mostly heard it being used in this way by people who inherently believe that the humans are lazy, ungrateful, entitled, selfish, and in other words not worthy or redeemable in any way. This, I have a problem with.
I’ve always had a heart for human beings. Ever since I began to consider going to college for psychology, I have wanted to help people. I have always had the inherent belief and attitude that people are worthy, loveable, and redeemable no matter what they do or who they are. This has further intensified with starting to work at my local MHMR. Though some of our clients do have insurance and means to pay for their own services, majority of the people we work with are low socioeconomic status. Focusing on this population, and the issues they present, has given me new insight into the “poor” humans and their issues. Though I still have much learning to do, I now have further insight into WHY and HOW people are poor.
Get a job. Stop doing drugs. Stop whining, Stop lying. Stop being negative. These are all things my clients have heard. They should just “pull themselves up by their boot straps and get themselves out of the hole they are in.” Yes, they do need to get themselves out of the hole they are in. No, it is not as simple as just mustering up willpower
You see, there is a reason for poverty. There is a reason for mental health issues. There is a reason for drug and alcohol addiction. There is a reason for incarceration. And it’s rarely as simple as willpower. In grad school, I was taught that it isn’t WHAT people do, it’s WHY. There is always a reason behind behavior.
Every single client I have met thus far has a deficit in some area–typically coping skills, money management skills, relationship management skills, frustration/stress tolerance skills, mental illness management skills, job retainment skills, etc. This is further intensified with other life stressors such as physical ailments, lack of support from family members and friends, inability to pay bills, etc. Why don’t they just learn these skills and get themselves out of their situation, you ask? Well, that’s a complicated question. And I want to answer it.
Majority of low income individuals are spending their time simply surviving–taking care of their basic needs such as food, water, rest, security, and safety. They do not typically have the time to devote to learning new, and complicated, skills such as coping skills. If they do have the time, they are either unaware of the resources out there to help or they are unaware of how to get access to these resources. Let me briefly explain a psychological model of human motivation.
According to Abraham Maslow, there is a hierarchy of needs that all humans need to become their full potential. This model (pictured above), titled the “Maslow hierarchy of needs” is built with a pyramid. At the bottom, and foremost need, is physiological needs–air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, etc. The next level is the safety needs–personal security, employment, resources, health, and property. The third level is love and belonging–friendship, intimacy, family, and sense of connection. The fourth level is esteem–respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength and freedom. The last level is self-actualization–the desire to become the most that one can be. So, you see, based upon this model, one cannot simply employ willpower to get somewhere. Willpower goes under the fifth level of self actualization. This means that a person needs A LOT of other things before willpower comes. They need physiological needs, safety, love and belonging, and self-esteem. The “life skills” that are needed in order to quit drugs, stop getting incarcerated, and stop being depressed are in the last levels. According to Maslow, a good percentage of people DO NOT reach these levels. They get stuck surviving–hustling for physiological needs, safety, love and belonging, and self-esteem. They don’t get the luxury of having the time, money, familial support, and resources to develop these skills they need.
I wholeheartedly believe that the labels of lazy, entitled, selfish, negative, or anything along those lines, punish human beings for just trying to survive. What is preventing them from being able to develop these skills? What resources do you have to develop these skills that other people might not have had? I urge you to think about it.
I refuse to give in to the narrative that human beings are lazy, entitled, selfish, and a waste of time. Are they frustrating at times? Yes. Is it easier to not care? Absolutely. And I refuse to settle for this narrative. Giving in to this narrative means we are giving up on the human race getting better.
I refuse to give up on any human being
I refuse to label
I refuse to misunderstand
I refuse to sacrifice my belief in unconditional positive regard
I refuse to sacrifice my empathy and passion for humans
Because every single human being is worth it