A "leg up" vs. a "hand-out". - Surviving on Shoestrings by Donna Miller
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Surviving on Shoestrings by Donna Miller

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A "leg up" vs. a "hand-out".

Please let me preface that I know many people who are legitimately in a 'program' of some form, so don't take this the wrong way. There are real people in real need. I also believe their character would prefer a 'leg up' over a 'hand-out' any day of the week. At least, they would after I explain the difference. I can speak because I have been there.

Yep. I looked the difference up. Just to make sure I wasn't living in some southern colloquialism time-warp. I'm a vocabulary geek. They do each mean what I thought they did.


leg up:

a.a means of help or encouragement; assist; boost:

b.advantage; edge


a.a portion of food or the like given to a needy person, as a beggar.

b.anything given away for nothing, as a free sample of a product by an advertiser.

Is there a reason why home grown tomatoes taste better than store bought? I believe it is the effort put into growing them yourself. We can argue the point of what is in or not in the soil, but the truth is, you've earned it and it is a sweet reward!

Is there a reason this quote is, well, quoted so often? "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime."  One fish will not keep a man (or woman) from goING hungry. It only stalls the inevitable unless another fish falls in his/her lap the next day. 

Let us look at what is created with a 'hand-out', shall we?

By the first definition, yes, it is our duty to care for the needy, but to give one fish means they are only temporarily cared for...so...is our obligation fulfilled? I would say "HARDLY." But also, by simply handing out items that are needed, we have reduced this person, this soul, this productive body of society to a 'beggar.' That is not a label to many would willingly wear for too long.

Secondly, when something is given for 'nothing' - someone, somewhere IS always paying the price for it. Usually it is the consumer, unwittingly until the end, but still ultimately paying a price. By becoming dependent upon the 'hand-out' and seeing no way out or worse, lethargically addicted to it as a source of sustenance (be it drugs, food or money). A free sample from an advertiser, as we all know, is meant to entice us to buy and take the bait, for who's gain? Do those giving free samples have OUR best interest at heart or their own? Free information is one thing. Free money, free food, free items are all another, much like bait.

Now let us look at what a 'leg up' is in comparison.

Let's take the saying to 'teach a man to fish' that act not only impacts his own starving body, but that of his family, friends and community. He will likely out of his boosted confidence spread this skill by teaching others. He enjoys the fish he works for with a more enthusiastic gusto than the one that washed up on shore (that's a little 'iffy' smelling).

Encouragement says: "YOU can do it!"

Assistance says: "I'll help YOU, but I'm expendable, YOU are what is important."

Giving someone a boost, advantage or edge puts them ahead in the game, but the game still has to be played by everyone who is in it. No benchwarmers ever helped win the game.

On a personal note, I know the difference between the two intimately. I was on scholarship (poor-people & talent scholarships, not brainy-people scholarships) for all of my high school and college years. That was humbling and encouraging. It wasn't a free ride. I had to do work-study and still pay for classes. Had I not had that 'leg up' I would not have never gone on to school.  Yet, early on in my adult life we found ourselves struggling as a married couple to make ends meet and suddenly a baby was on the way, surprise!  We did turn down the government subsidies we qualified for (well below the line) because we'd known what it was to be poor and work hard all our lives already. We did accept food from a food bank ONCE because we had three small children and a job loss. That was all it took to realize the difference between working hard because we had someone give us a 'leg up' (wanting to honor their encouraging trust in us) and waiting for that next 'hand-out'.

I don't fault anyone for doing what they need to do. I just think the two differing means of 'help' create two different attitudes in the receiver. I would rather help someone feel empowered because they don't need me anymore, they’re fine now, and can go and give a 'leg up' to someone who needs them.




Pat said:

So very well said! There is a distinct difference in the two.

March 17, 2009 3:31 PM

cheapChic said:

Leg up hmmm need a stepping  or a regular latter, for this so no hand outs funny how different words mean or a frase sounds.. We all need to read more I guess.

March 17, 2009 8:28 PM

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About Millers Grain House

Donna Miller is the wife of almost 29+ years to the love of her life Joseph, the mother of three home-school graduates and has one daughter-in-law. She is the hostess of the radio shows Your Preparation Station, Surviving on Shoestrings and Encouragement in the Kitchen . She and her husband are the Organizers of WNC Preparedness Group in Asheville, NC. She is an Adjunct Instructor for Frontier Christian University. She teaches local classes and ladies retreats for people to learn hands-on lost skills. She is a teacher, author, sought-after speaker and trainer. She and her husband are the owners of Millers Grain House and are the founders of PREPARE Magazine .

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