Good Government

Jonathan Small | October 20, 2015

Sharing the Heart: Part 4

Jonathan Small

This is the fourth part in a series reviewing Arthur Brooks’ new book, “The Conservative Heart.” – Editor

Dr. Arthur Brooks is a gifted storyteller and this chapter is no exception.

Chapter 3 tells a story about how honest work empowers and elevates us. To tell this story, Brooks highlights The Doe Fund and its program Ready, Willing & Able that since 1990 has helped more than 22,000 men–many once homeless, incarcerated, and addicted to drugs and alcohol–build meaningful and dignified lives through honest, productive work.

Remember back in chapter 2, Brooks plainly details that the War on Poverty has failed. He explains that many of these programs tried to address complex problems–problems that cannot be solved by a single formula or program–with solutions for complicated problems–problems that are difficult to understand but can be solved with the right resources. (You can read more on this in my review of chapter 2.)

In chapter 3, Brooks tells the story of how a group of men in one of The Doe Fund’s training programs taught him four lessons that brought him to his formula for the conservative heart:

1. People are assets, not liabilities.
2. Work is a blessing, not a punishment.
3. Values matter most in lifting people up.
4. Help is important, but hope is essential.

Brooks spends much of chapter 3 chronicling the story of one of the 22,000 men who went through Ready, Willing & Able. The man was one of those men with a background filled with drugs and homelessness and came to The Doe Fund after being released from prison. Like everyone in the program, he started in a blue uniform “pushing the bucket”–a term used to describe the first three months spent cleaning streets in New York before moving on to a skilled job program.

Here’s some of what he says about his time “pushing the bucket”:

I had been through so many institutions in my life–jails, group homes, drug programs. They always told me what they could do for me. But this was the first time I was told what I could do for myself.

I started realizing I wasn’t just picking up trash from the streets. I was picking up values, morals, and principles. I was picking up self-esteem. And then when I would look back at the block I had just cleaned, and would see what a great job I had done, I realized that I had picked up pride.

We were out there making paths for the elderly, for the children, for people to get to work. Here we were, people who had slept in the garbage, in train stations, under bridges–those who society once thought couldn’t accomplish anything. We were the ones bringing the city back to life.

The economics of all that The Doe Fund has accomplished are interesting, and I’ll let you read about it for yourself. The nonprofit estimates that its work helping men reclaim their lives has saved New York $3 billion in social costs.

Brooks is careful to make clear that viewing people as assets and not liabilities is not to be understood as viewing people only as “potential moneymaking machines.” He wants people to understand that it is crucial for Americans to look at each person and see their potential to create value and benefit society through meaningful work. He is also careful to make plain that any honest, productive work is meaningful and people are wrong to assume that “paying work is only dignified once it reaches a certain level of prestige.”

He goes on to write about two kinds of hope. The first is vague, emotional hope and has consequences that can result in feeling out of control. The second kind, what Brooks calls “practical hope,” is the belief that there is a pathway between a person and their goals and the subsequent belief that a person can achieve their goals.

By the end of the chapter, the reader sees that Ready, Willing & Able works because it offers the second kind of hope. It empowers the men who participate in it (men who many in society have written off) to cultivate values, self-esteem, pride, and a sense of worth and purpose through work.

If we truly want to help the most vulnerable in our communities, we need to work toward solutions that recognize their dignity and worth. We need to recognize that people desire meaningful work and address and remove the obstacles that keep the most vulnerable from honest and productive work.

To quote Brooks one last time, “Aim at anything less, and we’re failing to live up to the example of the Men in Blue.”

If you don’t already have a copy of The Conservative Heart, I highly encourage you to pick up one and read all the stories in chapter 3 for yourself.

You won’t want to miss Arthur Brooks tomorrow night, Oct. 21. Tickets are still available.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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