There’s never one dimension to a person. One can be a parent and sibling at the same time as being a doctor and a pianist. There are perhaps roles that one performs more frequently than others, especially if it defines one’s career, as opposed to a hobby. But to engage in dichotomous thinking, to say “Right now, I am only a doctor” denies one the insights that could be utilized in one’s work. A patient might find concert music soothing and more conducive for a healing state, or learning an instrument may be a useful tool for occupational therapy. Being able to draw upon these different facets of our lives, to act in a holistic manner, is then perhaps the most fundamental expression of collaboration-within-self.
Personally, my interests range from working with various forms of internet media, to community development, to training and education, to writing, to gardening, to cooking, to doing taxes (WHAH?!), to financial counseling, to exploring models of community economic development. The financial interests often come as a surprise to folks – it certainly was a surprise to me. I tell people that the common thread connecting all these is justice. Is is just that people who live on $10,000 a year should have to pay $200 to get their taxes prepared in order to obtain their $300 Earned Income Tax Credit? Preparing people’s income tax returns (for free) provides insight into their lives at a very intimate level. It can be both inspiring and depressing. It certainly helps dispel assumptions about who the materially poor are and how they act. The social worker in me doesn’t just take the tax forms and plunk in numbers. I talk with clients about what they plan on doing with the refund, explore tools for saving or raising money, and discuss the advantages of using a credit union or a bank as opposed to check cashers.
This experience helps me understand some of the dynamics that affect those with whom we are engaged in community development, and to appreciate their financial situations. A challenge is when we train folks in basic collective action tools and attitudes, and then they move out of the neighborhood, because they couldn’t afford the rent on their house. Individual financial programs could help, but we need to explore more institutional forms for enabling our community members to develop sound home economics. In one instance, several of us pooled together $100 each to cover the rent for one of our most active and dedicated community members who was simply between jobs and in danger of being evicted. Lest we loose this precious resource, we contributed a small investment in the neighborhood’s stability. She now hosts a regular gathering and is in the process of starting a second.
While I would like to do an article or two on financial or economic collaboration in the magazine, I think it may lend itself to a whole special supplement on the topic. I could focus on personal finance in one section and collective finance in another section. The supplement could also approach the topic in the form of a training – how to work with low-income clients or employees and how to create programs that support them. If anyone has suggestions or thoughts on the direction, format or content such a supplement would take, I am definitely interested in receiving them. Please jot your thoughts in the reply section below.