If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? If Paul Ryan visits communities to try to solve some of the most vexing problems facing our nation, will the media cover it?

The chairman of the House Budget Committee has been on a yearlong listening tour to hear firsthand how our tax dollars affect those most at risk in the safety net that comprises much of our social-welfare spending. Beginning in January 2013 in his home state, the Wisconsin Republican set out to meet with 12 providers of hope across the country, ranging from Pastor Darryl Webster’s Boot Camp at the Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis to Curtis Watkins’ National Homecomers Academy in the District of Columbia. Most of those whom Ryan met were faith-based institutions in some of America’s most distressed communities. But what inspired Ryan to engage in such an outreach in the first place?

I visited with Ryan this week to discuss what he’s learned. He told me that he was inspired by what he’d seen and heard; the dedication, determination, and spirit of those most in need of help working to better themselves and those in their communities. When I asked what had surprised him the most, he immediately noted that he had been struck by the generosity of people to roll up their sleeves and help those less fortunate than themselves—the businessman willing to offer a job to someone from a distressed community and then vouch for the individual looking for a hand up rather than a handout.

I was further surprised to hear that Ryan had just returned from a closed-door meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus—a meeting convened at their request. My first instinct was that Ryan had been taken to the woodshed for having the temerity to say the following a little more than a month ago:

[There is a] tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work.

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