Building on what you’ve built: A GREAT Story

My Patheos colleague Tim Dalrymple has a story and video that really should make everyone stop in their tracks and think about what we all mean when we say (or sneer) at each other: “success”, “capitalism”, “share”, “evil corporations”, “collectivism” and “church.”

We get caught up in words like those — particularly in an election year where, suddenly, words like “hard work”, “build”, “success”, “welfare”, “human dignity”, “profit”, “business”, “hand-outs”, “hand-ups” and “community” are being stood on their heads; particularly in a world where words no longer seem to mean anything unless they can be first hewn into a weapon and used to bludgeon someone else.

When the president said, recently, “you didn’t build that” he was ostensibly talking about community, and about the fact that yeah, everyone succeeds (and, sometimes, fails) because of the people around them — people who helped to make them, or to break them. Because he is a “community activist” at heart, he foolishly wrapped that talk around resentment, infrastructure and taxes, and with a sneering sort of “feel guilty for using the roads and bridges (that your taxes and your employees taxes paid for) in order to build your success.” And because he chose to frame his point so poorly, he met understandable resistance from people who said, “don’t guilt me for working hard; the same taxes that built the infrastructure are also paying for social programs people need; should they feel guilty because my success comes to their aid?”

And so, yeah, his words have been badly received. The president could have made his point in a better, more enlightening and inspiring way, if he’d taken the time to expand on what “giving back” really means. Hint: it doesn’t mean “guilt” or “class warfare.”

Here are a couple of great words that help define “giving back”: “Avalon Consulting”; “committed Catholics”; “The Working Boys Center”; “Family”; “Help-up”; “Dreams”; “Community”; “Now we are all learning to read and write”; “Loyalty”; “Personal Formation”; “Religion”; “Education”; “Economy”; “Work”; “Recreation”; “Health”; “Housing”.

You can see those words lived out (in such clarity!) in this remarkable, inspiring video that had me nearly leaping up in applause:

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Writes Tim:

What I especially love here is the way in which Avalon as a company has gotten involved. Avalon has won national recognition and earned good money building enterprise-scale websites, and they steer some of their revenue and a lot of their expertise pro bono toward world-changing projects like the Working Boys Center.

I like the clearly visible love, loyalty and respect that all of these folks in the video have for each other; I like that mass is offered daily “for those who want to come” — there is nothing compelled; I like that the people helped by this program do not simply find their success and forget about who helped them, but come back and help others.

This is a beautiful program. And it’s a beautiful thing when a successful business entity says, “let us help”, and then does.

Made my day, this video did. It makes me want to reach out and get involved.

I have to think that all the words in this video were what President Obama actually meant to say.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Brian A. Cook

    I do appreciate the fact that you mentioned the context of Obama’s “You didn’t build that.”

    [I always understood the context. I also understood that he was still playing from a place of resentment and class warfare. It's what he does. -admin]

  • exhelodrvr

    “if he’d taken the time to expand on what “giving back” really means. Hint: it doesn’t mean “guilt” or “class warfare.””

    On what “it” really means, or on what “he” really means? I believe that “he” really does mean guilt and class warfare – that seems to be be pretty clear if you look at his history.

    BTW – love your blog. As a Lutheran, I generally don’t read the “Catholic-specific” posts, so I can’t speak to those, but you’re a great wirter, and your “catholic-specific” posts are excellent.

  • dry valleys

    Social enterprise is a profoundly good thing, and I’m fully in favour of co-operative and mutual organisations. When I realised that the government wasn’t going to restrain bankers, I (a) stopped being a centrist and (b) transferred my bank account from one of the worst offenders (after the LIBOR scandal we see that it’s even worse than it seemed then, in 2010) and started banking with the Co-Operative Bank. i don’t know if there is an American equivalent, it’s a bank run along mutual lines and which pays a dividend to its members every year according to how much they have invested. (I think they bear some resemblance to credit unions).

    At the same time, I’m as firm a believer that people carry evil and destructiveness within themselves as any of the faithful. So I think trying to appeal to people’s better nature and exhort them to do good works will never quite be enough to restrain the 1% from wreaking havoc on the lives of low-and middle- earners (most of whom would act in the exact same way if they had the power to do so).

    In a similar vein, I appreciate the efforts of philanthropists, but I deny that they were ever going to have relieved poverty without the efforts of government. It was Orwell who had this to say about Gandhi, though it could just as easily have been about Chesterton, another contemporary with whom he disagreed.

    ‘The attitude of the Indian millionaires was similar. Gandhi called upon them to repent, and naturally they preferred him to the Socialists and Communists who, given the chance, would actually have taken their money away. How reliable such calculations are in the long run is doubtful; as Gandhi himself says, “in the end deceivers deceive only themselves”; but at any rate the gentleness with which he was nearly always handled was due partly to the feeling that he was useful.’

    The tradition to which I belong fully appreciates the role of markets in generating wealth, but thinks that without progressive taxation and a partial redistribution of said wealth, some people are going to just fall further and further behind, and the likes of Avalon Consulting will never fully ameliorate this. To assume otherwise is the mistake that David Camoron makes, and the fruits of his assumption are now known.

    TLDR: Good that people are being charitable. But asking everyone to be nice and appealing to their better nature will never be enough!

  • Ann

    I wish there was a way to bring some of these families here to help them live a better life. One thing they have if Family togetherness, something that has been diminishing greatly in the USA.

    It is also disheartening to see religious dressed as Lay persons. This is not right and in the great book given to seminarians years ago titled, “The Epitome of the Priestly Life” Imprimatur: +Patrick J. Hayes, D.D. 1921….Our Lord expresses his desire that priests dress in their priestly garb and not be of the world.

    [I like the habit as much as the next person, but the habit is not the be-all-and-end-all of religious life. Look what those sisters have done with their lives for the sake of Christ! -admin]

  • http://ThankyouforthisfilmclipAnchoress. Victor

    It warms my heart to hear that there are still many Christian people angel cells in this world who care and love to help without expecting monetary rewards. In other words, they are truly happy just knowing that Christ is pleased in what they are doing.

    God Bless


  • ahem

    There’s no such a thing as “capitalism.”

    Marxism is a philosophy; ‘capitalism’ is a word Marx coined to describe what people do when they act in the basis of mutual economic self interest (‘enlightened self-interest, I believe Smith calls it). It’s not an intellectual creation, like Marxism. Smith just wrote down what he saw in practice, the common sense economic agreements people made amongst themselves when left to their own devices. In other words, it’s freedom. Replace the word capitalism with the word freedom next time it’s mentioned in the news, and you’ll start to grasp the implications of what Bam and his minions are trying to do. It’s called enslavement. That’s why Marxist societies always end in misery. It’s a deeply nihilistic, greedy and stupid philosophy. You’d think freedom would be a silver bullet against it, but you’d be wrong. Its siren song always seems to bewitch some poor sucker.

  • Deacon Greg Kandra


    Well, then, you might appreciate this picture of the Holy Father, taken in 2004, just eight years ago:

    Deacon Greg

  • Gail Finke

    dry valleys: I appreciate your point, but we already have a progressive tax system in this country. The rich pay significantly more, and the poor pay nothing. So the rich are already funding the many social programs that we have, as well as the roads, bridges, etc. The question is not and cannot be, “should the rich pay more than others?” because they already do. And on top of that, the rich contribute the bulk of money for charities. I wish that wasn’t true, as I am not rich, but I can’t deny that no matter how large a percentage of my income I give, rich people will give more than I do and charities need them more than they need me! I am all for adjusting our progressive tax system when necessary, but I am so tired of President Obama and his supporters acting as if rich people don’t already pay higher taxes and they just came up with the idea of making the rich pay more out of their brilliant minds.

    As to what President Obama meant… I’m with Elizabeth. I think he partly meant to say “we’re all in this together,” and he partly meant an attack on the rich because he is a socialist at heart. And yes, I have read the speech several times in full. Here is how the Encyclopedia Brittanica defines socialism, from the first paragraph of its entry: “According to the socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members.” That’s pretty much what President Obama said, and it seems clear to me that that is also what he meant.