During this year of 2017 when we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism, our vocation and our commitment call us to recognize the social needs of the poor.
The social needs of the poor are those related to interaction with others and can include: the need for friends, the need to belong to a social group, the need to love and to be loved.
The concept of “social need” is cultural and such needs can be established institutionally or politically since the concept implies a definition of certain patterns of consumption and well-being as “normal” and/or “desirable”. Each society decides how much health or illness is acceptable or unacceptable, decides what level of inequality is acceptable and decides what benefits will be granted to the members of society. Life expectancy, work safety, legal protection, adequate housing and clothing, level of cultural and artistic literacy, participation in sports … all of these are values that may or may not need require specialized professionals in order to become firmly rooted in the midst of society. These same values are also desired (in varying degrees) by the people who are an integral part of society.
Underdeveloped countries and nations where there is great social-economic inequality are often defined as such because of their standards with regard to basic social needs. Such needs acquire a political character, that is, they are viewed as the social-economic rights of people and therefore, government begins to respond to these social needs in the form of public policy.
Social needs are related to people’s affectivity and to their sense of belonging to a group and therefore encompass basic emotional elements. People need to feel accepted and need to feel that they are part of something. Some examples of those needs are friendship, intimacy (intimate friends, intimate advisors, intimate confidants), family, organizations (clubs, associations). The absence of these elements can make people lonely, anxious and/or depressed. An example would be when individuals find themselves in precarious financial situations and need to obtain a loan … in such situations they are seeking social approval. The human person is not only an individual but is also a social being.
Vincent worked with the resourses that were available to him and was able to bring about reforms in society. Vincent stated that the poor were more offended by the lack of organization in providing charitable services than by the lack of charitable persons. Since we live in the midst of a globalized world, we must have a broad vision of reality, a vision that enables us to deeper our solidarity with our brothers and sisters. Harvey Cox, in his book, The Secular City, stated that the man who was assaulted when traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was not a neighbor to the Samaritan. Rather the Samaritan helped the man in an effective manner, with no sentimentalism. He did not attempt to establish an “I-Thou” relationship with the individual, but rather treated his wounds and made sure the innkeeper had enough money to continue to care for him. When social needs are not satisfied, people lose their personal and group identity … people feel lost and this often leads to chaos in their own personal life.
Charles T. Plock, CM