Being married to a performing singer and university opera director means that I get to meet all sorts of people, ranging from students to retirees, from those who are very creative and interesting to those who are financially very well-off and support the arts, some few of whom are also creative. I also have been drafted at times to craft various documents, including fund-raising letters, and this has led to some interesting situations.
Although the university is located in the Utah county with the lowest individual and per family income, with a large rural component, and no heavy industry and only a comparatively few mid-tech or light industrial concerns, several directors of one charitable group absolutely refused to allow the use of those facts in a fund-raising appeal. Why? Because, first, they felt it would alienate any executives in the small manufacturing community, because it implied to them a criticism of their wage scales, even though the appeal specifically noted that the small manufacturing community was an exception to the generally prevailing low wage scale.
When I attempted to discuss this with one of the individuals who insisted on deleting the statistics, that individual provided a detailed explanation of how his company paid far higher wages than the local average and how their training program had enabled workers to move from the bottom to the top of the wage scale, all of which was absolutely true. He then claimed that that low income problem was because of four factors: a local culture that emphasizes large families at a young age; the lack of high-tech manufacturing; a rural economy outside of the city proper; and the fact that “people choose their life-styles.”
The executive who listed those factors was largely correct in his assessment, and, more than likely, equally correct in assessing how his peers would react, but that assessment didn’t make the problems go away. It did make it more difficult to explain why an organization needs funds for programs to benefit the children of those who are less fortunate without pointing out that more of such families exist in one’s community. It’s as if some of these more financially fortunate individuals want to deny the reality of a situation while attempting to ameliorate some of the problems caused by that reality.
I’d be the first to admit that people make both good and bad choices, having made some of both myself over the years. And some bad choices do lead to low incomes and, often, poverty, but the fact remains, after all the rhetoric, that the county does in fact have the lowest per capita and family income in the state, and not all of that can be explained away by poor choices on the part of individuals. In addition, children don’t choose their parents, what work those parents do, or what culture exists where the family lives. Geographically isolated small cities and towns without plentiful water supplies will not have much, if any heavy manufacturing.
Unfortunately, the mindset represented by those who didn’t want the facts listed has an impact well beyond local charitable appeals. Problems of all sorts don’t go away just because there is a “good explanation” for their cause. Put in a lighter way, one of my friends, a retired engineer, observed that, when the highway department installed a huge sign on the interstate highway stating “Bump Ahead,” the highway types thought they’d solved the problem. They’d only described it… and solutions have to go beyond description.