As a long time, member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul here in Canada, I have always found reading about our founder, Frederic Ozanam to be a great source of inspiration. In one of Frederic’s famous speeches he warns us about the widening gap between those that have (the haves) so much and those that have very little. (the have nots). He states that if someone, such as the Society does not intervene between these two different segments of our world, there will be conflict. While I think most interpreted this speech as meaning some form of armed rebellion, which France did experience, perhaps there is another way to understand what Frederic meant.
The more I consider what Ozanam said and apply it to todays world, I would likely discount an armed conflict and instead try to look at this from a social justice perspective, and perhaps one Ozanam also envisioned. I wonder who the Haves really are. Of course, they would include those with financial wealth, but could they also be those who hold a wealth of political, economic or bureaucratic power. Do those holding such powerful and influential positions also have a moral and ethical responsibility to use their knowledge and position to take actions that have a positive effect on those who hold no such positions? This segment of our populations would include the many people living in or near poverty. Amongst the Haves, I would also include Vincentians who are aware of poverty issues, likely have regular contact with our neighbours in need but fail to use their positions to do more, to speak with and on behalf of those we serve. We too have some real power which is more a spiritual and societal bond of trust with those we serve.
If we keep in mind the fact that a personal and institutional transformation is the first requirement of any effort at systemic change that aims to alleviate poverty, then do we not need to challenge ourselves and our organizations to take more social justice actions? We can be a bridge that crosses the barriers between the haves and have nots because we are really part of both worlds. We see and experience what life is for those most in need, but we also could meet and talk with those in various positions of power which can be part of changing systems. Ozanam spoke his words many years ago but it would seem they are just as relevant today. Let’s answer Frederic’s plea for positive action.
Are you a Have or a Have Not?
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.
Opinions expressed are the author’s own views and do not officially represent those of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.