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Debt With Dignity

Oct 14, 2007
In all sorts of corners of life we now assume that it is wrong to not treat others well. For example, in the U.S. we no longer have separate entrances based on the color of your skin. Buildings make allowances for physical limitations and a recent news story said that more people have developed a tolerance for the religion of others.

But we could make some advances in learning to treat people in debt, with dignity. I'd have to say that currently, society treats debtors as losers and if debtors were on a ledge getting ready to leap, a crowd below would be yelling "Jump!"

The majority of people without financial problems love a little debtor voyeurism and to witness the financial misery of others. It's like watching the train wreck through cracks in your fingers as you hold your hand over your eyes. You don't want to watch but you do.

Imagine if suicide was like debt and when you were contemplating killing yourself your creditors kept calling you and say things like "you are a loser" or "just do it and good riddance"? That's some pretty cruel mojo isn't it? Maybe we should call the overweight kid that is depressed and yell, "fatty, fatty" into the phone. But I doubt that would be kind or beneficial at all.

So why is it when people are in financial trouble that we can't wrap our arms around them and treat them with care, compassion and respect. We should. We all should.

If you've never been deep in debt and afraid, unable to sleep, on the verge of an anxiety attack, and depressed, it might be hard for you to imagine what life is like during those dark days of debt. While some might put on a mask, most people are ashamed, unhappy and afraid inside.

Being in debt is the modern day leprosy. When you can't spend money like you used to people don't seem to be around as much, your life changes in a way that you perceive to be for the worse and when you've got to move because you can't afford the rent it's like being hustled off to the leper colony. You're now isolated for all the wrong reasons.

I can't think of any time that I've ever seen someone post a sign in their front yard that says, "Hi Y'all we're so broke we can't afford to live here anymore and we are getting kicked out." Actually, what I've seen more of are foreclosed homes with everything left behind, including wedding pictures and the belongs of evicted people left by the side of the road for passerby's to pick through. Ashamed people flee.

Debtors deserve dignity. I'm not saying that we need to give anyone a free ride in life. I'm just saying that people in debt are wounded and deserve to be treated as you would anyone in a difficult time or in a fragile moment.

Being in debt is a mathematical position with emotional manifestations. Being unable to pay your bills is not a casual reality for most debtors. People in debt want to pay their bills, they do, but they can't see a way or they are not emotionally ready to make those hard lifestyle changes to meet their new obligations.

Being unready or unprepared to make changes to get the numbers to line up does not make you a bad person. It just makes you someone that for some reason is unwilling to make some difficult choices right then.

Being in debt is about managing depression, despair and loneliness. I'm not saying that all debtors feel that way, but most do. Being in debt is about a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. It's about being unable to make a plan, stick to it and make it happen.

The emotional pain of being in debt robs ourselves of our own dignity and the rest of society does almost nothing to help cradle the debtor with love and compassion to soften the blow and easy the journey.

Debtor's are losers. Debtor's are rejects. Debtor's are liars. Debtor's a failures. And all of those statements are uttered every day by people and none of them are true. Instead they are like the school yard shouts of the insensitive bully that leaves scars for life on fragile minds.

Debtors do have a duty to find a solution to make the pain and misery they are living through, change. But that can be like asking someone with a bad back to run a marathon. It can happen but with a little help and support.

Being in debt is a thing but being a debtor is personal and debtors deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion while they are helped towards a solution.
About the Author
Steve Rhode is the president of the global social enterprise Myvesta Foundation and provides free advice and information about how to deal with debt from his blog, Credit, Debt & Life.
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