Beggars Can’t be Choosers; Don’t be a Charles Daniel

By Darrell Howard

Stuffed! Young boy had enuogh chili con carne. Focus on spoon.

When I was a kid and complained about not getting what I wanted, my parents used to say, “beggars can’t be choosers.” I heard this repeatedly. Didn’t like liver and onions for dinner; mom’s stew? Beggars can’t be choosers! Fortunately, my parents’ propensity for repeating phases now considered inappropriate have long faded and I can enjoy my own tasty version of stew.

Out of all my parents’ phases, this one has stuck with me the most. Perhaps it’s remembering the feelings connected to not being able to make decisions for myself or, as my colleague TracyRay would say, “manufacturing gratefulness” for receiving what was hard to accept. Don’t get me wrong, my parents did their best with the limited resources they had. It was just that we never negotiated my needs; the opportunity to understand why they weren’t met rarely materialized. I was likely too young to comprehend such adult concepts.

My work with Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC) and four years of learning with Poverty Talks! has got me thinking about “beggars can’t be choosers” again. Doesn’t it suggest that when one lacks the resources to obtain what they need independently, they then must surrender their autonomy to someone else who then decides for them? And doesn’t it also suggest to “be grateful for what you’re given,” even when what you receive is no match for what you need? When members of Poverty Talks! say “dignity is the first causality of poverty,” is this partly what they mean? Grown adults denied the common ground to negotiate their needs with those who can facilitate their acquisition.

Saturday Night Live humorously captures the “beggars can’t be choosers” approach to poverty in their skit $0.39, in which recipients of an ill-informed fundraiser start to rebel. Take that Charles Daniels! If I hear members of Poverty Talks! correctly, there are still too many Charles Daniels making decisions “about us, without us” and an insisting on manufactured gratefulness.

I believe members of Poverty Talks! are fighting for something better and I hope we join them. To quote TracyRay “We say nothing about us without us; we say we will not manufacture gratefulness.” Move over Charles Daniels, let’s build a more dignified approach to addressing people’s needs by creating common ground and mutual understanding. TracyRay eloquently expresses this concept in Villanelle; may we listen and act.

(Darrell Howard is a Community Facilitation & Engagement Specialist at Vibrant Communities Calgary.) Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment