Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jane Addams and Our Impending Autumn of Ugliness

Today is the birthday of Jane Addams, one of my long-time heroes.  I've written about her in terms of theology here and written here about her in terms of communal living and what we might learn from her successes.  Today as I was reading about her life, I was struck by how much she accomplished.  Where did she find the energy?

I'm just exhausted at the thought of going back to work today, and my work doesn't really take that much out of me physically.  It's not always easy emotionally, but I can't imagine that Addams had no emotional upheavals in her work for social justice.  Why could she do so much?

This morning, I was struck by the fact that it was an inheritance that catapulted her on the path of becoming the first female winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Her father's death left each child with roughly $50,000, which allowed Jane Addams to go to college and to buy Hull House and fix it up.  Eventually, other donors helped, and she didn't have to use so much of her own money.  Still, if she hadn't had the inheritance, Hull House would have been but a theory.

I suspect we are headed into an Autumn of Ugliness as our legislators argue about the best ways to spend the money they don't have or about why we can't spend it.  I'm in a bit of despair myself over the state of the economy, over the imploded labor market, over the dwindling job market (no jobs created in August?  None?  Really???).  I suspect we'll hear all sorts of ugly things about the rich and the super-rich.

When you do hear people talking in ugly terms about the rich, remember Jane Addams and the fact that a lot of rich people do a lot of good in the world.

And what a lovely fantasy to indulge in, when you need to tune out the Autumn of Ugliness:  what would you do if you found yourself with a chunk of money?  How could you use it to make the world a better place?

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