Imágenes de páginas

terrible because of our congested living and because of the disastrous economic loss that comes to the producer who falls sick. We have luxury and leisure, honeycombed with sinister injustices and criminal practices. Under these new conditions, the old certainty with which a solitary individual, unaided by others, may win the rewards of competition-simplicity of success flowing from an abundance of opportunity, the desirability of leaning quite so much upon the fickle Goddess of Chance; the assurance of the continuance of our traditional social equality faced by mammoth inheritances now protected by corporate administrators-break down in part.

The changes that have come in the quality of freedom and the approach to opportunity, with their violent contrasts of glory and of degradation, are of such importance that they threaten the very existence of a social structure founded upon the ancient precepts unless somehow, somewhere, guaranties are offered against inequalities, injustices, losses of opportunity, and the results of incapacity and of misfortune. With a constantly growing cohesion of society, America needs, day by day, new methods that will supplement the old conceptions and expand them so as to guarantee to each inhabitant, with more certainty than before, his elemental rights to life and the pursuit of happiness while he plays the game of competition, not against an unconquered domain, but in a highly organized and speculative society of cleverly wrestling brains. Unless such guaranties are worked out, practically the very character of American society is justly threatened. If those guaranties are not put into effect, the foundations of that society eventually will be justly overthrown.

Here, then, into these great breaches in the wall about the American scheme of life, steps social work, bearing the torch of a new hope and setting up, not alone for the poor and the distressed but for the average individual as well, a new defense in the shape of certain very practical guaranties. It is here that social work becomes, in effect, an insurance to the people that a constant struggle will be maintained to keep the individual from being submerged by disaster while he plays at the game of life, throwing his counters upon the whirling wheel of chance for the high stakes of fortune. The existence of an expanding program of social work assures that American society may be continued on its present philosophic base with a program that purges the corrupting influences of wealth and prosperity on the one hand, while it turns that wealth and prosperity on the other hand into a wall of protection for those who fail and for those who are in danger of not succeeding under the tremendous pressure of modern interrelated life.

In order to make the case clear we must examine explicitly these guaranties that weave together the design of social work's program. First is the guaranty of a minimum economic standard. The continent is rich beyond the dreams of Croesus, and there is far more than enough to keep everyone alive in moderate comfort. Inasmuch as this enormous prosperity is no longer dependent upon the efforts of single individuals, but upon group production, group distribution,

and group financing under competent leadership, the separate units of the groups that participate may justly and without shame insist that each producer, working under favorable conditions and reasonable hours shall draw a wage from the general production that will permit him, without overstrain, to support himself and his family in reasonable comfort, in health and in sickness, in youth and old age, and through all the vicissitudes of life. Reasonable attempts by the producers to win and maintain a fair economic standard has met, and always must meet, with sympathy and cordial support from social work.

Yet there are always individuals in a system of free competition, who, for one reason or another, any general standard notwithstanding, are not able to get for themselves a large enough share of the common prosperity for the maintenance of comfortable life. Feebleminded and insane individuals are not likely to be continuously self-supporting or even self-managing. Unfortunately, those who come into old age altogether too frequently find themselves without savings, and with their faltering bodies unequal to the task of carrying the load of self-support. Children who have lost either father or mother or worse, whose fathers or mothers are neglectful of them-must be guaranteed livelihoods while they mature and ripen for the struggle with life. The widow with a brood of little children, the wage-earner who is sick, the worker who has been injured, the person who is permanently disabled, the congenitally handicapped, and those misfits who cannot adjust themselves to the complicated mechanism that whirls around them are all without the means of maintaining life on a minimum standard of comfort in a system where livelihood is dependent on labor merit.

Over and above these causes of individual economic misfortune are group causes beyond the control of individual victims, such as war, the disasters of nature, the fluctuations of business life, and the injustices of man, that throw great masses of people out of work, cut off their earning power, and drag them temporarily below the line of economic independence. The total volume of misery that would flow unrelieved from all of these incidents of competition is so horrible in its contemplation, so gruesome an orgy of human suffering, that without a positive guaranty that it will be relieved when it occurs, and that intelligent efforts will be made to prevent its recurrence, the competitive scheme of life could not be tolerated.

The establishment of this minimum economic standard in each country of the world is the task of all the people of those countries, working through all the agencies at their command. The task of social work is to help wherever it may in its establishment, and particularly to discover those individuals who, because of various difficulties beyond their immediate control, fall through the competitive sieve below this minimum standard of livelihood, and to maintain them at as near this standard as possible.

This satisfies our humane impulses and our sense of fairness. But, bearing in mind that national ideal of a self-supporting, self-respecting man or family, we temper this generosity with caution and intelligence. It is not so much the

defense of a system as it is a profound conviction that the greatest good comes to the greatest number by a straightforward recognition that self-reliance is the road to healthy happiness, and that it can readily be destroyed by thoughtless charity or public subsidy that drives us into a corollary of our task of relief, which is certainly one of the major principles of social work. While we feed, clothe, and shelter the shattered individual or family, we struggle to apply every available instrument in the community to reorganizing the forces of those lives which give any hope of reconstruction, so as to work them back above the standard of self-respecting and self-supporting livelihood, in order that they may shoulder their loads again and carry them triumphantly through the world. Doctor, psychiatrist, employment manager, credit manager, policeman, judge, clergyman, relative, everything, and everybody is grist for the mill of constructive social work.

And while social work plays the leading rôle in this double guaranty of salvation for those who fall and of resurrection for those who can be restored, it constantly examines the confusion of the competitive structure itself in the lurid light of human misery, seeking intelligent modifications and additions that will both retain and strengthen the old virtues, and will write less of misery and more of happiness into life.

The second guaranty which a cohesive competitive society must offer its citizens is an elemental standard of public health. The humane instincts of mankind insist that life itself is the most precious thing on earth, and every effort possible must be made for the preservation of healthy life. An industrial society, dependent for its prosperity upon the labor product of the largest possible number of workers, must be vitally interested, for the sake of efficiency if for no other reason, in keeping every human body as nearly physically fit as possible. These two instincts should make American society constantly alert in warfare against disease and against the conditions that breed disease. Sanitarians working on group sanitation, and members of the medical and allied professions, on individual clients, are the first line of offense. But social work also has a great part to play, peculiarly its own, in maintaining this second guaranty. Its first task is to swing its organizing genius into play for the creation and maintenance of hospitals, clinics, health centers, and experimental laboratories, in order that the people may have the best of service, and the practitioners of the healing arts may have at their disposal for economic use the best of facilities for the average person. Its second task is to stand ready to grasp new fragments of medical and sanitary knowledge as they come off the anvil of experimental science and to organize and operate the needed educational mechanism for the distribution of new scientific truths to all the people for their self-protection. Its third task is to utilize its own enormous machinery for studying and helping human beings individually and in the mass, in making its own researches into the causes for health and sickness among the people, and to give to the country knowledge that will raise the minimum standard of health in the light of a

growing science. Its fourth task, of equal importance with the others and again peculiarly its own, is to ferret out the sick and those who are threatened with being sick, who cannot afford the expensive luxuries of doctors and nurses, to supply these to them, and to readjust separate broken bodies and minds to the forces within and without them so that health may follow sickness, so that sickness need not perforce follow health, and so that sickness, if it must persist in an individual, may yet be triumphed over by life.

The third guaranty that any permanent society permitting the accumulation of great wealth and of power by individuals must offer its people is the preservation of opportunity. Opportunity is one of those precious heritages of which we are proud. We have affirmed time and again that it shall be equal; that each shall have his fling with the Goddess of Fortune, and win if he can, or lose if he must. Yet, while humane, mankind is also selfish, and a society of gamblers such as we must be constantly alert to circumvent the scheming and plotting of separate players whose every intention is to make victory certain for themselves, with not too much thought about what happens to their opponents. There are those among us for whom opportunity never did exist, or who have had it and lost it, and for whom it must be constantly re-created. Without any doubt, the inheritance of wealth, in some respects, gives the child of the rich a more favorable start in the race for opportunity than other children have. The children of the very poor, of the widow, of the alien who does not understand our ways, the orphan, the children born out of wedlock, the children from vice-infested homes, do not start at the same advanced mark that the favored child does. They are in constant danger of being submerged in the maelstrom of crime, vice, exploitation, and injustice. Social work, jealous of the equality canons of America, steps forth with its third guaranty to the underprivileged, creating giant institutions and systems in foster care, education, and character training as effective as those which may be used by the children of the millionaire.

Adults also come among us from abroad to make their contribution to the communal life, who find the doors of opportunity only partly open. Those who would exploit them and those who would lead them into the bypaths of evil must ever be fought. Young men and young women prompted by ignorance, by lack of training, by malformed character, by uncontrolled impulses, go astray in this complicated world of ours, closing the door of opportunity upon themselves. Social work sets itself to reopen that door, and by its kindly, patient, and constant attention to guide the faltering through it.

The fourth guaranty is a leisure for all the people commensurate with the needs of health and self-advancement of the individual, taking into consideration an economic production standard adequate for comfortable consumption, and the acquisition of a capital surplus by society. In the old society, when the conquest of the land and of nature's resources was our main quest, man was compelled to work all the hours of the day at grueling toil. The new mechanical

[ocr errors]

order based on the division of labor, on power production, and rapid distribution, makes possible a constantly shortened work day and a steadily expanding leisure. The shortened hours have not been yielded without many a bitter contest. Social work, cognizant of the throbbing life of man, of his physical weaknesses, of the limits of his nervous system, of his groping aspirations for self-advancement and happiness, has always been sympathetic with any just demand for a shortened day and lengthened leisure.

Yet this new leisure is by no means an unmixed blessing. Used properly, man gains immensely in health, in knowledge, in work power, and in mellowed tolerance and kindliness. Used improperly, man destroys his health, his powers of useful service, and drags those dependent upon him into want, misery, and


So social work sets out to guarantee the creation of wholesome leisurespending devices, the regulation of commercial leisure exploitation, and the provision of leadership and social thinking in these suddenly expanded, enormously changed, hours of freedom from work. Whereas the good people of the world have frequently questioned the right of leisure by abstinence from, and prohibition of, relaxing recreation, social work states that leisure is both a right and a necessity in the high-strung life of the day, and attacks the dangers potential within it with a positive program of leisure-time occupation.

We come now to the second fundamental axiom, that organized social work is necessary for the spiritual existence of freemen in an intelligent industrial society. The great mainspring of social work is neither science, nor ethics, nor political philosophy. It is love. It is that quality, springing from the soul of man, that places a mother on the cross for childhood; that makes a father work for those dependent upon him until he drops; that causes the neighbor to pause in the self-absorption of his affairs and carry comfort to those who are stricken near him; that sends gay-hearted youth into the torturing hell of battle for home and for country. Love is the thin film of protection squirted between the wheels of life, that lubricates them, and keeps the whole machine from burning out in the merciless friction of living. Love lifts man from the plane of the beasts and stretches his stature upward until he can see and hear God.

Love makes organized social work imperative in a highly organized society. For the antithesis of love is selfishness, and selfishness holds sway very largely in any competitive system. We play the game hard, and many win and many lose. The first business of competition is to worry about victory; to key each actor on the field of play up to the point where he will put every ounce of strength into the quest for victory. This is the nature of man. It is the epitome of selfcenteredness; and in the train of selfish aspiration after victory flow also defeat, suffering, misery, degradation, and destruction. If it were not that love entered into this scheme of things the game would be intolerable. But love does enter in. In the soul of each of us is a great yearning to share the suffering of others. We feel the poignant pains and racking sorrows vicariously. Our greatest heroes

« AnteriorContinuar »