Self-esteem building and the irreverence of the poor

When a poor community is unable to assert its rights as citizens, a sense of worthlessness seeps into the day-to-day interpersonal relationships in the community. The sense of worthlessness which is similar to a lack of self-esteem is expressed through apathy or aggressiveness. People seem to be ready to hurt others at the slightest provocation. The opposite of this aggressiveness is apathy. Nothing moves the apathetic person.

Community Organizing is not just about collectively asserting a particular sector’s agenda and making government policy change happen. It is also about reclaiming a person’s self-esteem that has been dumped mercilessly into a person’s subconscious by the manner society is arranged economically, politically and culturally. In the existing societal order, the poor cannot but find a way to help himself or he goes through life like a living dead. To help himself and his sector he has to dare to break through the walls of apathy and subservience – two big words that refer to the state of powerlessness of the poor.

Power as a force that can make the poor shed off their apathy is gradually built from a collective emergence of a newly discovered realization. That newly discovered realization or learning could not have started without an anger that grows out of having read the situation of poverty from analytic eyes.Before objective analysis is the reality of subjective analysis. Before irreverence there is subservience and apathy. Apathy is a way of coping with the violence of poverty.

Having read with objective eyes the systemic causes of poverty, irreverence emerges. The state radicalizes the people with its unresponsiveness to the people’s needs. What can be best illustrated about this principle than a big community of landless citizens threatened with eviction with no just and humane resettlement alternative? Irreverence is the capacity to question unjust implementation of laws or just plain unjust legislation. It is also the readiness to do something to change a very oppressive situation. Irreverence is the opposite of reverence but these two concepts are part of one reality. This reality is social justice. Reverence is real when social arrangements make people’s lives dignified. When social arrangements grab human dignity away from the poor, nothing as sacred as a dogma, law or tradition can keep that so-called sacredness if justice and human dignity are ignored and trampled. Irreverence is a call to justice. Irreverence to unjust socio-economic, political and cultural structures help the poor reclaim their trampled dignity and self-esteem.

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint; When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist...Dom Helder Camara, Bishop of Recife, Brazil