I am a fan of the late, great writer William S. Burroughs and of Pope Francis as well. I don't do drugs and my humor is sporadic so I will never be able to emulate Burroughs. I lack the wily patience of Pope Francis. Of all the wonderful things Burroughs said, what sticks in my mind is a remark about how to eliminate poverty and by extension wrongdoing. "Find out what they want and give it to them." That is so sensible it disarms you.

Here's what the pope said

Pope Francis has just offered a maxim that advances history: Give without worry. This is good advice in this season of Lent.

The pope told Italian publications that we should not just give and walk on. We should pause, make eye contact, and establish commonality with whoever we are helping.

Manhattan, where I live, is filled with panhandlers. When the pope says to give without worry, he is saying we should forget our reservations and relieve ourselves of that dollar bill burning a hole in our pocket. He is going against the thought attributed to Nietzsche that helping can breed humiliation and resentment. The pope in saying don't worry is concerned as much with changing us as in helping the panhandler.

Breaking barriers

However one responds to the Pope and other advice to give charitably, UNICEF statistics on the state of the world's children tell us we never succeed in stopping what amounts to a sort of benign genocide.

We proceed with our good lives knowing many are suffering and dying. We feel we can do nothing.

At this exact point, I argue we can do something. We can go back to Burroughs and listen closely to what comes through his irony. Buried in the Burroughs maxim is the best answer to the solution of poverty. Find out what they want and give it to them.

That is the simple truth in Burroughs. It is why democracy is not just a mode of governance but a basis for individual goodness We don't have to figure anything out. All we need to do is ask people respectfully what they want. It may well turn out to be respect and a choice in life.