Inept, or genius?

I’m having a hard time figuring out if people I know are playing stupid, or if it isn’t an act. My Dad did this. I have two coworkers who do this. Are they really inept, or just acting like it to get out of doing work?

How much of this is learned helplessness? If you act helpless, people won’t ask you to do anything. My Dad used it all the time, and my Mom fell for it. Well, until she had to be the breadwinner because he was unemployed. Then he had to learn how to wash the dishes and the laundry. Then he was miserable. He complained. He whined. He even sang spirituals about “Washing off his chains”. She ignored him, because she couldn’t do it all and he was at home doing nothing productive.

Laying around on your recliner listening to Beethoven doesn’t count. If only she’d ignored him for years earlier. Maybe he would have grown up.

So I’m trying to tell my coworkers to not let these other coworkers get away with being “inept”. Maybe they really are inept. Maybe they really are stupid. But then, how did they get Master’s degree in library science? How do they run a household? They aren’t in an institution, and that degree has their name on it. Time for them to live up to it. If everybody else does their job for them, then really, they are genius.

They have figured out how to get paid to do nothing. And how to get someone else who gets paid less to do twice as much.


I think it is important to teach people how to take care of themselves. I’m concerned with the number of agencies that just seem to rescue people. This is the “give a fish” mentality, versus “teach a person to fish.” If you give to them, but don’t teach them how to provide for themselves, then they will simply have to come back for more help from your agency. They become dependent, rather than independent.

There are two resources at my church that are great outreach services. They are Second Harvest and Room in the Inn. Second Harvest provides food boxes to needy families so that they can eat. Room in the Inn is a partnership with a homeless agency that provides a safe place to sleep and a meal to homeless people. These are both very labor-intensive services that are essential to the community. They help people in our community, giving to them what we as Christians are called to provide our neighbors.

While I support the idea of Second Harvest and Room in the Inn for alleviating the symptoms of poverty and homelessness, I wonder if there isn’t more that can be done? Why are we addressing the symptoms and not the cause? Why are we catching people when they fall off the cliff and not when they are moving near it? It also takes away a person’s dignity to make them have to beg.

They need to be trained to provide for themselves. They need access to health care. They need education. They need job counseling and training. They need to learn how to take care of their children so they won’t grow up poor.

I think this way about church too. I think that the entire structure of church these days makes people dependent. It doesn’t teach people how to connect with God directly. In a way, I’m envious of my Jewish friends who have rituals about everything, every day. They are reminded with every moment that they are part of the People of God. I feel like the current structure of church encourages people to stay sheep. They don’t ever learn to take off the training wheels to the bicycle. I find it interesting that I’ve had more how-to advice on how to connect with God through my spiritual director than through any priest I’ve ever known.

Now perhaps I’m over-reaching, and I’m not seeing things in a helpful way. Perhaps this is part of my problem. There is a Jewish concept that refers to the “evil inclination” that says if you can’t do the whole mitzvah, don’t even do a little bit of it. So instead of focusing on the thing that can be done, I want to work on the thing before the thing. I want to dig out the root. Perhaps that force is what is at work here. Perhaps there is a mix of all the other big heavy stuff I’m dealing with right now mixed into it.

Because right now I’ve got a lot of my past and my future catching up with me. Right now I’ve got issues I’m dealing with that concern my childhood – issues that I’ve not faced. Issues about neglect and abuse. I’ve got issues with my parents in law and their impending deaths and how they treated my husband when he was growing up. I’ve got issues with what I’m called to be and do in this world. I don’t want any of this, and I certainly don’t want it all to be happening together at the same time like it is, but there you go. We don’t get a lot of choice sometimes. So sometimes things don’t come out the way they should. But they do. And that is part of this messy business that is life, and living in community.

But perhaps I’m on to something, and the fact that I can see it means it is something that I have to work on. I do want to wake people up, but yelling at them isn’t always the best way.