Needy or Undeserving?

Legal and Financial help

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Helping the needy, even when they are “undeserving” By Karen Maxcy

Do we help the needy because they are needy, or because they are deserving of our help? Are we more likely to help when the circumstances are compelling to us and relate-able? For example, a friend loses everything she owns in a house fire and is in need of financial help. We tend to help because that person is a friend (that we like presumably) and also a house fire is something that can happen to anyone, good or bad. Are we less likely to help when the circumstances are less relate-able and the person less like-able?

I grapple with these questions on a daily basis and try to find the right balance so that I help people who need help – regardless of their “worthiness.” In my line of work, I have many clients who come through my door in all manner of distress and trouble for financial help. Through the years, I have worked hard to control my urge to judge or to be offended.

On judging – we just don’t know where people are coming from and what they have been through. A common mistake is to look at someone and say “that could never happen to me.” And of course not — if that person had your parents, your upbringing, your family support, your church, your stable job, your good health – of course it would never happen to them either. But what if you bore their burdens? Would you then face your challenges with as much grace and courage as them?

On being offended – in my early years as a newly minted attorney, my heart used to pound with indignation and outrage when a client or prospective client behaved in a way I considered dishonest or disrespectful. I was personally affronted and thought “well then, you’re not deserving of my help!” For example, sometimes people would say “I’m not going to disclose that. How would anyone know?” Or, my friend (who is not a lawyer) said such-and-such is possible so you have to do it that way as well. Truthfully, almost ten years ago, I had a prospective client walk out on me on a Saturday morning because I gave her advice that conflicted with what her neighbor told her.

If I had that same client today, I would have worked hard to rehabilitate her negativity and HELPED her, instead of letting her walk away. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that each of these clients pay me a fair fee to represent them and I am legally compelled to help them. The truth is that for people like that client I was describing above – a person who needs help (whether a charitable case or not) needs HELP exactly because they are needy, not because they are worthy. The objective fact is that they are needy of something that they cannot provide themselves and that we can provide for them at that time.

It is easy to help people who are deserving of help. A higher ideal to aspire to is to help those among us who are undeserving of help but who have a need. I am confident that my staff and me aspire to the higher ideal and work hard each day to help our needy clients, even when they are “undeserving.”

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Jeffrey L. Wagoner


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