What Is the “Bottom”?

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Andrea writes in with a heartbreaking story.

In your post about helping others, you made several suggestions for helping someone that appears to be in trouble. The item that most struck home for me was:

“Wait for their “bottom,” then gently offer help. Although a low point can often be incredibly painful, it can also be an incredibly valuable learning experience for people. It is at that point that a person realizes, for the first time, that they’re following a path that doesn’t work. It’s at that time when they look around them and see who their true friends are, as they are the ones who are willing to help them at this low point. That’s when your help will really matter. That’s when a helping hand won’t cause resentment, but will be appreciated. That’s when it’ll build into something more than just a quick fix.”

I thought that my sibling WAS at bottom. Had been out of work for 3 years, had not been eating properly for 6 months, was not able to feed their pet of 16 years, AND they were becoming homeless due to not being able to pay rent. Another sibling of ours was helping them to make rent for 6 months.

I offered (w/ my spouses approval) room and board while they continued their job search.

It lasted 6 weeks. Not that they found a job and were back on their feet – no. They couldn’t stand to live in our home with our house rules. What we considered to be simple, they found to be onerous.

example: Turn out lights when you leave a room. After weeks of “please turn out the lights when you not in a room”. I came home from work one day and found 5 rooms of lights turned on upstairs while the person was downstairs in the TV room, with lights on, watching a movie. It was the middle of the day. I was not happy.

example: Their pet of 16 years is old, kidneys were failing, & has lost bladder control. To them it was OK to keep the pet confined to the house and leave to mess inside the house. We live on a large lot that is securely fenced. We keep multiple pets that welcomed the old dog with no problems. The dog could have stayed outside for hours at a time and not bothered anyone. I asked that they clean up the dogs messes. This was inconceivable to them. What did they do in their previous home?? They lived on the 2nd floor of a walk up. Did they never walk or clean up after the dog??

Sometimes, what an outsider may think is bottom, isn’t.

I had very carefully let them know I was there for them. Where I believe that I messed up was that, when approached for help I OFFERED a room and meals. I should have waited to find out what they were looking for. And if I could not accomodate that request (say, cash), then wait for the follow up request.

Andrea’s point here is incredibly valuable. A situation you might consider to be “the bottom” might not be a bottoming-out for someone else.

When we “bottomed out,” we had a pretty large stack of debt – around $20,000 in credit card debt, two car loans, and several student loans. Yet I still receive emails every single day from people who are in comparable situations, if not worse. Sometimes I shudder at the situations people find themselves in.

It gets even worse when you start mixing in other factors. Depression. Drug abuse. Self-loathing. Poor influences from the people around you. You can be convinced that you can never really fix your situation, so why not just keep behaving like you already are?

I watched someone very dear to me spend more than a decade of his life simply not caring very much about the world. He sunk very deep into a mix of mistakes, depression, and drug abuse and got very low before he decided to start fixing things. His bottom was far different than mine.

So, what can you do? In the story above, Andrea quoted me a bit, and I want to repeat one sentence here.

It is at that point that a person realizes, for the first time, that they’re following a path that doesn’t work.

In other words, bottoming out is a matter of self-realization. You personally might find someone’s situation to be unbelievably bad, but if they don’t see it, they’re not going to change the course they’re on. If they see more value in continuing down their current path than changing to a new one, all of your care in the world won’t add up to too much.

They have to bottom out for themselves. It’s an internal thing, where you finally accept that there’s something wrong in your life that needs to be fixed. Some people will reach that point much more easily than others.

Until then, any help you give someone on a downward trajectory will just prolong that downward trajectory. If you think a drug addict has bottomed out and you give them some help, but they haven’t bottomed out yet in their own mind, they’re very likely to use your help to further their downward spiral. The same thing happens for anyone on a downward spiral of any kind. If you help someone that hasn’t reached their bottom yet, your help will mostly just prolong their downward slide.

The help you should offer to someone before they reach the bottom is non-financial help. Talk to them. Lend them an ear. However, offering them material and financial assistance usually doesn’t help until they’ve really reached bottom and have made the internal choice to follow a different path. The best way to judge that is through their actions and choices, not their words.

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54 thoughts on “What Is the “Bottom”?

  1. It seems to me that “bottoming out” due to spending too much money on video games is not at all the same thing as “bottoming out” due to long-term unemployment in a slow economy. The lessons learned from one are not necessarily applicable to the other.

    Do you really think that someone who’s been unemployed for three years hasn’t yet realized that “they’re following a path that doesn’t work”? That’s kind of insulting. I know how much you really, really want to believe that nobody would be unemployed if they all just swallowed their pride and picked some green beans, but it’s not true.

    I’m not a doctor, and even if I were I wouldn’t presume to diagnose anyone with anything over the internet, but it sounds like Andrea’s sibling’s lack of motivation (to turn off lights, etc.) may be a symptom of depression. Beyond helping them get treatment for that, I don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t think that victim blaming should be part of it.

    And Andrea, if you’re so puzzled about how your sibling cared for the dog in their previous home, have you thought about asking them? Just a thought.

  2. @ Johanna: I wouldn’t put it past some people not to realize what they’re doing wrong until they quite literally die. Denial is an incredible thing, and the human mind’s ability to wipe out things it doesn’t want to see is astounding. My own parents are in a “situation” as well, but they insist that things are perfectly okay. Which is true, if you can ignore most of the facts.

  3. Timely post for me.

    I’ve got a friend I grew up with; my parents moved across the road from him when I was 10. We were both from lower upper class families (both had live in “help”, 9 acre front yards, living in Westchester). We both went to the same schools and eventually my family moved away to Canada 6 years after I met him.

    His father passed away of cancer when he was 16 and his stepmother was abusive so he came to live with us for a year until he could go live with his aunt (his mother had died when he was 8 of leukemia).

    He never really recovered from that and never finished university or began his career. We stayed friends over the years with phone calls and emails a few times a year and visits every few years.

    With help from his aunt he lived in Manhattan working minimum wage jobs and eventually left NYC to live in the Carolinas where he went to college. He was living in a long-term hotel working at Outback as a host until he was let go (problems with authority run long and deep). He went on unemployment but never found a job and just recently the unemployment has run out.

    It’s very possible he will be homeless soon. I don’t know what or if I should do something. I’ve been supportive and called him and sent him some books, but I haven’t offered money. I can’t offer a couch to crash on because I’m in Canada and he doesn’t have a passport nor the money to get one (never mind the money to get here).

    He’s applied to tons of jobs, but nothing has materialized. I don’t think his appearance would be great for over a year on unemployment. I know he has had a drinking problem.

    What I’ve decided to do was to keep sending him supportive emails and make sure he knows someone is caring about him and hoping he succeeds. I could send money but all I’ve read on this sort of thing say that’s not the correct way to help him become independent. His hotel is $170 or so a week and he hasn’t paid since his unemployment ran out. I’m afraid to call because I think they may have kicked him out and I don’t want to hear it if that’s the case. I’ve sent him info on shelters and food banks.

    Interested in your thoughts.

  4. Why do I get the feeling that the two rules Andrea mentions were not the only rules that she tried to impose?

    “I had very carefully let them know I was there for them” I just bet you did–over and over again. Did they not grovel enough, Lady Bountiful?

  5. Andrea, I think you nailed it with, “I should have waited to find out what they were looking for.” A lot of people don’t actually want help and advice, they want what they think is an easier way to keep on doing whatever it is they think they’re doing. Your efforts sound admirable, yet fell short because, sadly enough, people don’t always want help, they just want things to work out somehow.

    @Johanna – I agree with Jules. Some people think the world should be given to them and sit around waiting for it to happen. They think it’s just around the corner. All they have to do is stay the course. Sad but true.

    @Andrew – Andrea probably did have more rules, and since it’s her house and her offer she has every right to make those rules. She used them as a fantastic example of how having a thought-out plan can be beneficial in her post.

  6. Cripes, Andrew, that was uncalled for. Andrea didn’t /have to/ let her sibling move in, and she is perfectly within her rights to set ground rules for the continued privilege to live there. I should know, I recently had to move back in with my parents due to a relationship not working out. They aren’t charging me rent but I’m expected to clean and help with the groceries and you’d better believe I’m doing it!

    Unfortunately some people take Robert Frost’s quote ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in’ literally and feel like ‘they’re family, they’d /never/ kick me out!’…well, sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes tough love and a true ‘bottoming out’ is the only way for someone to get back on their feet.

  7. I appreciate Andrea’s point about waiting to find out what her houseguest was really looking for. One point though that I’ve learned from working with people in recovery is that you don’t necessarily have to stand by watching a bad situation and waiting for someone to “hit bottom”. Sometimes with the right intervention, they can get back on their feet while they still have something to live for and motivate them to make a change. The trick, as Andrea found out, is offering the right kind of help!

  8. To continue Nikki’s idea, I would be inclined to try opening a conversation if it’s someone I know who is just beginning down the wrong path. I agree that the person being helped, at whatever point, has to buy in to the idea that they need to make a change and that they probably need help to make it. [Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, & Britney Spears come to mind as ubiquitous examples]

  9. @Jonathan V: “Some people think the world should be given to them and sit around waiting for it to happen.”

    Of course there are some people like that. There are an awful lot of people in the world, and some of them have some rather severe character flaws.

    However, there are also some people who are out of work for no particular reason other than that the economy is terrible, who are able and willing to seek new employment but who can’t find any because the jobs just aren’t there, who know that what they’re doing is not working but have no idea what to do that *would* work, and on whom this situation is taking a psychological toll.

    If you’re going to argue that unemployed people are unemployed because they’re lazy, entitled, or stupid, then explain to me what specifically has happened in the last 3 years or so to make so many people so much lazier, more entitled, and more stupid than they were before.

  10. Agreed — my house, my rules. It’s a matter of respect.

    And I think Andrea is generous. Incontinent Fido would not be allowed anywhere in my house that didn’t have a vinyl/tile floor.

  11. On house rules: Of course Andrea gets to make the rules for her own house. But part of being an adult is knowing when to pick your battles, and realizing the difference between rules that are truly important to you and ones that you’re only imposing out of a sense of power and control.

    Turning out the lights when you leave the room does not save *that* much money, unless you have a huge house and you leave all the lights on all the time. If I had a houseguest who just was not in the habit of turning out the lights even after I’d mentioned it a few times, I would let it go. It’s just not a big enough deal to spark a major confrontation, let alone kick the person out of my house over this issue.

    And I think it’s really telling that in Andrea’s example, she sees fit to mention that “the person” had the lights turned on in the room that they were in. If this person has nothing to do all day but stay at home and watch movies in between looking for nonexistent jobs, you could at least allow them the luxury of some electric lighting.

  12. @ Adam P – That’s a sad story about your friend’s situation. I’m not really sure what the “right” thing is to do, but if he has a physical mailing address, perhaps you could send him a small care package? You could include a few essentials, a thoughtful letter and maybe a McDonald’s gift card worth $5-$10. That might be taking “showing you care” one step further without actually crossing the line of sending money.

    Just a thought … curious what others think …

  13. “any help you give someone on a downward trajectory will just prolong that downward trajectory”

    That is PURE GOLD. There’s very often something within a person’s control that has put there in the situation they’re in. Help them realize that, and they’re more likely to have a better life than just helping with the results.

    It’s the whole “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach how how to fish, feed him for a lifetime” kind of deal.

  14. And I think it’s really telling that in Andrea’s example, she sees fit to mention that “the person” had the lights turned on in the room that they were in. If this person has nothing to do all day but stay at home and watch movies in between looking for nonexistent jobs, you could at least allow them the luxury of some electric lighting.

    Good point. I missed that detail when I first read the post; telling, indeed.

  15. As usual, Team Johanna.

    One addtional note: you can be a rules in your own house enforcer without being a nitpicker. Perhaps it was just a bad example, but the lights off? Nitpicking.

  16. I just want to say one thing.

    Yes, the economy has been rough lately, and yes, lots of perfectly valuable, intelligent, experienced, hardworking people have lost their jobs.

    But if you’ve been out of work for *3 YEARS*, it’s not the economy.

    It’s you.

  17. @Monica thanks for your input. I did send him a few things to the hotel address via amazon and I know his aunt helped when his laptop died (needed it to apply online and for basic entertainment).

    I may call the hotel today and find out if he’s still there (dreading this as he may not be in which case he’s homeless. At least he has a cell phone the gov’t pays for to be reached at and an email account he could check at libraries). If he is still there I’ll look at a care package.

    It’s so rough because I consider us to have come from the same sort of upbringing up to about age 15 or so… “There but for fortune go I” or something like that. I know people say not to help financially, but it’s weird having all this money and savings and stability while a childhood friend goes homeless.

  18. The help I’ve most needed in my worst times has always been non-financial. Money, food, housing are easy for people to provide they are tangible, but they aren’t love.

    But the most powerful help I’ve needed has been for other people to believe in me. I’ve had that so little in my life it is terrible to contemplate. I knew exactly what I needed, even before I lost my previous job, I even asked specifically for that thing, and I’ve had people tell me they didn’t want to give it to me because they didn’t think I was worth helping. I needed a mentor, job coach or even just someone who would take me seriously.

    I am not a job title, not a problem to be solved, not an investment, not a number, I am a person. Things change dramatically when you get treated as such and not as a pet or piece of furniture.

    @ Kevin, after 6 months you are considered unemployable by most HR depts. Makes it hard to get any job then, eh. It just keeps getting worse from there. Go back to school? sure and go even deeper into debt, smart plan that, hiring rates for recent grads suck. How would you break the cycle?

  19. Only offer a level of help you’re 100% comfortable with.

    I refuse to give cash to people who have a history of bad cash management.

    However, I will give the same person a bag of basic groceries so they don’t starve.

  20. I think this is really so true,what may be one person’s bottom may not be someone elses. I have a close friend who is in terrible finacial shape and it’s not because she’s unemployed she just hasn’t hit her “bottom” and keeps making really bad choices, but doesn”t see that they really are choices, she always thinks bad things just happen to her but they happen because she continually makes choices that put her in worse shape. she spends very frivoulsy because she feels she works hard so she “deserves” it, getting nails done getting expensive hair treatments, taking trips, etc…. but can”t pay rent, or utilities and has had to move back in with her parents. i would have hit my bottom long ago but she still hasn’t so any help I would try to offer right now would be looked at very defensively because she’s just not ready to hear it yet! so I just try to show her by example there is a way out and when she’s ready i will be there for her.

  21. My sympathies are with Andrea, since I’ve been in her situation now for nearly four years with a mentally ill relative (who refuses treatment) and her child living with me. She pays no rent, contributes nothing to utilities, and I buy 95% of the groceries and household supplies. I’ve followed Johanna’s advice about “letting things ride” because the alternative is to kick them out and let them live under a bridge, but it is undeniable that resentment builds when other people are satisfied to live off of me and yet live more wastefully than I do.

    @Andrew, I don’t want or expect groveling and I’m sure Andrea doesn’t either, but before you trash-talk someone who is actually providing direct charity instead of just voting for the government to provide it with “taxes on the rich”, walk a few years in our shoes.

    Being unemployed for three years, in my view, is most likely a sign of some personal failing. That’s not necessarily laziness, but it might be unrealistic thinking and/or unwillingness to adapt to new circumstances.

    @Johanna, what happened in the last three years is this: We have high rates of unemployment because of contractions, some of them likely long-term, in several major industries. When the demand for labor decreases and the supply does not, restoring equilibrium requires the price of labor to come down in order to open up new fields of employment that were not affordable before. This is Econ 101. However, compensation costs, both wages and benefits, in both public and private sectors, have been INCREASING throughout this recession, albeit at a lower rate than before.

    Long-term unemployment compensation has helped avoid wage/salary/benefit declines, but it stands to reason that the result is much work is going undone because the cost of labor remains too high to justify getting it done.

    For example, I might be willing to pay someone $20 an hour to rebuild my garage, but not $40 an hour. When there was a lot of construction work, workers could get $40 an hour from someone else, so my garage wouldn’t get rebuilt. Now that many of those workers are unemployed, if labor costs declined, the “job” of rebuilding my garage at $20 an hour should be able to attract workers. But if the people who know how to do that used to get paid $40 an hour, and won’t even consider doing it for $20, the garage still doesn’t get rebuilt and the worker remains unemployed. That doesn’t mean the worker is lazy, but it does mean his unemployment is a matter of his choice. He’s still pricing himself out of the market of available work. Call that “entitled” or “stupid” or just slow to adapt, but it is a choice.

    There is still a LOT of available work. It just doesn’t justify hiring at the current price of labor so it goes undone. Another example, Trent might be willing to pay $10 or $8 or $5 an hour to get his writing properly edited. Of course, the latter two rates are illegal, so if his price point is under the current minimum wage, that work, which many of us have noted SHOULD be done, won’t get done. Neither Trent, nor unemployed grammarians, nor society as a whole is made better by such laws, but there they are.

  22. @AnnJo: “it is undeniable that resentment builds when other people are satisfied to live off of me and yet live more wastefully than I do.”

    I still maintain that if you’re harboring any serious resentment over something as inconsequential as neglecting to turn off the lights, then the problem is at least partly with you.

    And I say this as someone who used to be the type of person to make up all kinds of arbitrary rules (for my students, for my roommates, for people who borrowed my stuff, etc.) and then get all bent out of shape when people failed to follow them. It took me a long time to learn to lighten up, but (believe it or not) I think I have, and I’m a lot happier for it.

    The thing about other people is that sometimes they don’t do exactly what you want them to, and you don’t get to make them. And doing another person a favor – even a really big favor like letting them live with you when they have nowhere else to go – doesn’t give you the authority to control absolutely every aspect of their behavior.

    As I said, it’s about picking your battles. If the biggest problem you have with a person is that they sometimes forget to turn off the lights, then you’re doing pretty well. If you have bigger problems (e.g. the incontinent dog), then focus on those and don’t worry about the lights.

  23. As someone who has been in this situation, I would say that the lights were probably the straw that broke the camels back. People have an amazing capacity for dealing with stuff, but once you cross the line, everything becomes a major issue. It may also be the case that the big issues are just too much to deal with, so fussing about the little ones is easier.

  24. @AnnJo: “[I]t is undeniable that resentment builds when other people are satisfied to live off of me and yet live more wastefully than
    I do.”

    I’ve been in a similar but much less aggravating situation, and I completely agree. I think you’d have to be a saint not to resent someone putting you in this position. You certainly can control if, when and how you express that resentment, but you can’t control your feelings.

    Yes, maybe the lights aren’t a big deal, and I let bigger things than this go when my friend lived with us. But it’s still *really* frustrating. For all we know, Andrea might have silently put up with a lot and the lights were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Given that her sibling is inconsiderate enough to let her dog urinate in the house and has to be reminded to clean it up, I’m inclined to give Andrea the benefit of the doubt.

  25. Good grief ! this is what Andrea and her spouse get for their generosity: clueless people and a dog who get free room and board, a smelly house (and ruined floors/carpet), and aggravation to boot!
    My heart goes to you, Andrea!
    You say that it lasted six weeks, hopefully the spongers are out now. I would have killed those people ! (exaggerating of course but barely)

  26. My sympathy to Andrea.

    To me the story reads as if the lights were just one example of many.

    It is indeed difficult to maintain a charitable attitude toward someone who lives off of your back but won’t follow the same discipline that you impose upon yourself.

    Quite often the small disciplines that we impose on ourselves are the only thing that keeps us in a position that we may offer assistance in the first place.

  27. The lights may be just one example among many, but they’re the first example she chose to mention (even before the dog). I think that says a lot.

  28. Unless of course the brother is a green bean picker by trade.
    We don’t know that- he could be a PhD or some such.

  29. Wow. I can’t believe someone is arguing for elimination of the minimum wage. Sure, if someone could pay 5 an hour for correcting, then the person earning that wage can just go live under a bridge, I guess. Or they can live with mom and dad forever, never have kids, whatever. But in between the 3 jobs they would need to provide food and health care, they can “bootstrap”, and go to college and better themselves- if they save up for about 50-60 years. Come on, be realistic! I thought social mobility was important in our country.

    No min wage has been really successful at economic growth in China, but I will bet few of us would want to work in a Chinese factory, no matter how much we stimulated the economy. What we accept for some, we eventually accept for all.

    Besides, the real impediment to economic growth is the lack of disposable income. With solid wages that allow for a few sheckles left over after necessities, the customer base grows. As the customer base grows, business expands, and more people work, and the customer base grows, and so on.

    If you pay people next to nothing, they can afford the roof over their head, food and clothing, but cannot buy the extras most companies produce. Or they’ll just cheap imported stuff, from subsistence-pay factories abroad, which long term eliminates US jobs, or forces US workers to accept lower wages to compete, which makes them less able to buy factory goods, and so on, and so on, in a downward spiral. Or we no longer produce things here. Wait a minute- didn’t this already happen?

    Anecdotes are fine- yes- a college kid might like the opportunity, but it is not a sound strategy on the large scale-it becomes a race to the bottom. A “living wage” is one where if you work 40-60 hours a week, you an afford rent, food, the doctor, and basic clothing. Otherwise it is considered exploitation, or taking advantage, and frankly, it’s the opposite of “do unto others.” The minimum wage is about preventing exploitation, and goes back, to the Judaeo-Christian tradition of compassion.

  30. @Johanna at 24, Of course the problem is with me; I’m well aware of that. But there’s a reason why Mother Theresa was made a saint; perfect charity is not a ‘normal’ part of human behavior – and I’m basically a normal person, not a saint. Of course it isn’t just the lights or even the incontinent dog (part of the package I got, also). It’s just easier to think about those things than the fact that I’m living with a deranged person who may decide to set the house on fire or stab me in my sleep. But I’ll keep working on myself to “lighten up.” Thanks for the suggestion.

    And it’s good to know that if I’m ever unemployed for three years and go mooch off of someone else, you’ll leap to my defense to find an excuse for me.

  31. @#19 Lurker Carl: LMAO. :-) Best comment of the day. ‘Tis easy to judge when you are not the one in the situation. I find it telling that every commenter who is in Andrea’s situation has been understanding and compassionate toward her.

  32. @Kristine, when an economy is near or at full employment, then a minimum wage does what you describe – maintains a floor ‘living wage’ because workers are needed to do work that is worth that minimum wage to the employer. So the employer has no choice but to pay it, since he/she can productively use that worker’s labor to earn more than the worker’s cost.

    But in a high unemployment environment, if you want to put people to work, you have to encourage employers to offer work that may not be as high value. The choice then is between paying minimum wage or just not getting the work done, and potential employers are obviously choosing not to get the work done. At that point, the society has the choice of letting the workers starve or providing welfare payments, which raise taxes or public debt, which further lowers economic growth, setting up a downward spiral.

  33. I missed Lurker Carl’s comment until Joanna mentioned it. Chuckle!

    Johanna can take my relatives in, too! There are several dozen ‘arbitrary’ household rules she’ll learn to live without, like: dirty dishes and silverware go in the dishwasher, not in the cupboard or drawer; only recycleables go in the recycle bin; exterior doors should be closed and locked at night and when you leave the house; windows should be closed when the heat is on; the refrigerator and freezer doors should not be left ajar but should be closed; soaking wet towels should not be left on the hardwood floors or wood furniture overnight; etc.

  34. Good Post , made me realise that a friend of mine has not yet reached bottom and explains a lot about her behaviour that I hadn’t realised and couldn’t understand before. I suddenly had that ah-ha moment as I read this. So thank you Trent.

  35. While I agree the sibling should clean up after her dog and perhaps look into canine diapers, I wouldn’t put my ill, elderly dog out in a pen. I had an old dog with the same problem in the end and I kept her inside and comfortable. I didn’t want her with rowdier, younger dogs and out in the weather. Honestly though, the quality of life for a 16-yr-old incontinent dog can’t be good at all.

  36. Something that bothered me I had to come back to. Is carpet really worth more then the life of even a dog?

    I knew a woman with a dying dog, she said it was just carpet, it wsa her friend that was dying.

  37. “…there’s a reason Mother Teresa was made a saint…” actually there isn’t, since she wasn’t. The recognition of another miracle performed by her is required before she can be canonized; the only question is whether this should consist in preventing people from having rules about turning the lights off, or in making people remember to turn the lights off.

  38. @AnnJo. Starvation or welfare are not the only 2 choices for unemployment. Divert even one or two percent from the “black fund” that is bottomless and unaccountable, and you can have a public works system that not only puts people to work, but benefits us all as it repairs our crumbling infrastructure. (Farm it out if you find the idea too socialist.)

    That is just ONE idea, there are many, at both ends of the political spectrum. But lowing the wage to subsistent levels, and undermining the standard of living for the middle class is a step backward. You have to remember that a large middle class is a fragile and fairly new idea in human history- and could end up being a mere blip on radar if not vigorously defended.

  39. I can’t personally support the idea that “any help you give someone on a downward trajectory will just prolong that downward trajectory.” It seems unnecessarily cynical to suppose that a person can’t, with support, turn their life around until they hit rock bottom. Sometimes a nudge can help.

  40. Personally, my sympathies are firmly with Andrea. When I was about 17 and still at school and living at home, my mother took in a boarder “temporarily” for virtually no rent. He didn’t have a job, so she found one for him, which he took – for a while. He didn’t like working nights, so he left. After a while, she then found him a volunteer position (at the time volunteer work was mandatory to continue getting the unemployment benefit), and that turned into paid work he seemed to enjoy. But… living in the house with him was terrible. He constantly told my mother she shouldn’t let me do things (like be a teenager, basically), told lies to my friends about me, complained to my mother that if I didn’t pay rent he shouldn’t have to, didn’t emerge from his room except when we had visitors – and then wearing only a flannel shirt, underwear and socks. He also terrified the living daylights out of our 2 already nervous cats! The worst thing? After asking him several times to leave didn’t work, my mother finally gave him written notice because my sister was moving back for a while. He then spouted off to the neighbour offensive and untrue things about my family – including saying it was so sad my sister was moving back home!

    But at the time, if anyone had asked me why it was so bad having him there, the thing I probably would’ve said is that he only had socks in one colour – bright, flourescent green – and hung them on the clothesline. The other stuff just wouldn’t have come to mind, because then I would’ve had to spend energy getting over it – yet again!

    Also – notice the letter says the lights were on *in the middle of the day*. Unless it’s a particularly dark room or the middle of a Swedish winter, I’d suggest that’s not really necessary.

  41. @kristine, there are about 14 million people unemployed currently (not counting those that have been dropped from the count because they have given up).

    To provide each of them a job in re-building infrastructure, which requires payment of a ‘prevailing wage,’ would cost at least $50,000 per person in wages, benefits and administration.

    That amounts to about $700 billion. If that is 1-2% of this black fund you believe in, then the black fund must be $35 – $70 trillion – that’s trillion with a T. This is about 10 – 20 times our current annual federal budget, including Social Security and Medicare, and more than 2 – 4 times our entire national GDP.

    In other words, you have offered a solution that depends on the existence of a fantasy.

  42. AnnJo- You misunderstand. The 1-2% would not employ every single out of work person. That would be ridiculous. Solutions are never that simplistic.

    Some estimates put the Pentagon’s Black Budget- (only about dozen of top level gov officials even know what is in there)- at 36% of our national budget- it is about 700 billion. It is always amazing to me how much welfare is touted as the big money drain, when it is less than 10&% of the budget pretty much anyway you slice it. OK, so take about 1-2&% of the black fund, and put people to work on infrastructure. Those workers then have money to spend! And they will spend it on lunch where they work, and consumer goods, stimulating both at risk neighborhoods, and the economy. Businesses in these areas will improve, hire workers, etc.

    I have no interest in citing sources here, as links doom comments to limbo forever. But you can google these topics and learn quite a lot. And read overseas press, not just US press-our press tends to have more fluff than meat when it comes to the really dry stuff. Anyway- that is just 1 idea. There are many other ideas than lowering wages to subsistence.

  43. #22 Tammy made a great point:

    “…she just hasn’t hit her ‘bottom’ and keeps making really bad choices, but doesn’t see that they really are choices, she always thinks bad things just happen to her but they happen because she continually makes choices that put her in worse shape.”

    I’ve been the person who doesn’t see my own agency in what happens to me. It’s taken a lot of personal growth (years of therapy, finding a healthier romantic partner, distancing myself from unhealthy family members, learning to have some initiative, etc.) to start getting beyond it.

    Now it bugs me when I notice this trait in others. I see this in various friends who regularly have hard times and don’t know how to be helpful. Usually I limit my comments to emotional support (“someone cares and thinks you are worthwhile” sorts of things). Like this post says about bottoming … you can’t make people realize that their actions have a greater effect on their lives than they’ve heretoforth noticed/acknowledged. Also, things that come across as judgmental are probably not as likely to be listened to.

    Or maybe those are my avoidant tendencies raising their naughty heads. ;)

  44. I agree with the idea that some people never hit rock bottom until they die. That was my dad–no one could help him because he never admitted the depth of his problems and he died because of them.

    All of his “loved ones” had to cut their ties to him because his addition, personality, violence, and neediness sucked up every bit of support offered till the well went dry. He never really admitted that all his problems were because of him or that he could change so all our attempts at help were for naught.

  45. Andrew (post 4) certainly sounds like a very young person who has issues with the most basic underpinnings of gratitude and rules. Not to mention, unfounded snark is not welcome on this site.

    There are people (and I am excluding those with verifiable mental illness) who honestly feel that they are so special that the rules of life do not include them. They see other humans as “things” and revolt against any word or deed that makes their world uncomfortable. They are giant black holes that will suck all energy, peace, and prosperity from those in their orbit….and then move on to the next target.

    The only appropriate way to deal with these folks (as opposed to those down on their luck and needing a boost) is to RUN. RUN FAST! Do not let them into your life in any way, shape or form…..and it doesn’ matter how much DNA you share.

  46. I think Andrea’s realisation that it was inadvisable to offer something specific and that it would have been preferable to wait for a specific request is very insightful. Btw I’m even censoring my own thoughts about lights being left on !

  47. @kristine,
    Wow! As the saying goes: It’s not what you don’t know that is the problem, it’s what you think you know that isn’t so.

    The ENTIRE budget of the Pentagon is $700 billion, which is about 20% of the total budget (including Social Security & Medicare). The amount that is allocated to highly classified projects (“the black budget”) is “estimated” (by people who give no real sources for their estimates) at $50 billion. 1-2% of $50 billion is a half-billion to one billion, and that isn’t going to put a lot of people to work, especially since it’s probably already paying for people to work on these secret projects.

    If you’re still following this thread, I’d really love to know where you picked up the misinformation that you quoted.

  48. I think for your sibling to not respect your house considering their situation is outrageous. I would of kicked them out. The fact that you let them live there while they get back on their feet and allow them to save money, eat meals, have a place to sleep is not enough, they can’t turn off the lights in the 5 rooms because they are not paying for it. YOU ARE! Your sibling sounds irresponsible. If i were you, i would do the hard thing and let them go so they can learn on their own how hard it is and when they do start to pay rent or own a home, they will turn off the lights in every room they are not using. Most people are super conservative when they don’t have jobs and they are appreciative of people wanting to help, this is unacceptable.

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