Blog Action Day: Poverty – A day late and a dollar short

Yes, this is a knitting blog mostly. No really it is! (Stop laughing please).

Yesterday was actually blog action day and I was tryna write about poverty yesterday, but I wanted to think more and read more before I wrote anything. I didn’t want to write stuff that just makes people feel bad; I wanted to be thoughtful, perhaps even insightful, in 500 words or less. A tall order indeed!

I remember almost 20 years ago I was at a friend’s house and we were having a study session on the amazing document, The Promise of World Peace*, published by the highest administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, the Universal House of Justice (stay with me y’all, I promise not to get “too Baha’i” here.  :o).  One of the folks studying that night was Steve, who happened not to be a Baha’i, and we came to the part (on page 9, FYI) where there is a brief discussion about the extremes of wealth and poverty, and Steve said something about how he could understand why being really poor was bad, but he couldn’t understand what was bad about being really rich.  That comment has stayed with me – I think about it often – because it really made me think about the mostly unconscious attitudes/prejudices we Americans have about wealth and poverty, and also the wealthy people and the poor people.  Any examination about poverty must include something about wealth and the extremes of both because they are, I believe, inextricably linked.

Here are some observations I have:

  • we (middle class, dominant culture United Statesians) tend to see poor people as earning their fate or choosing to be poor, and we tend to make assumptions about their choices in life that reflect badly upon their character.
  • we know that “throwing money at the problem”  is not the answer, so I think poverty must have other components (such as systemical or spiritual reasons) that keep things as they are and are not about dollar amounts.
  • we tend to think in a “scarcity” paradigm, which means that if so and so has something, I do not, and there is not enough to go around.
  • we tend to value property over people (i.e. there are more pet shelters than there are homeless shelters).  Consider this quote from http://stealthissweater.blogspot.com/

“I started watching a documentary about Africa last night and soon realized that our cats are better taken care of than most of the people that were profiled in the documentary. I briefly considered killing the kittens and sending the money I’m shelling out for food and medical care to people in Africa. But I don’t think that’s going to work out.”   I think that’s a very honest comment.

  • we tend to believe that our economic place in life is the direct result of our own efforts, taking for granted/ignoring/being blind to any help we have received privately or publicly, and we tend to assign a positive moral value to those efforts
  • the extremes of wealth and poverty is a topic of immense complexity and our public discourse does not seem to accept or participate in complex discussions of any kind
  • bad economic newsmongering contributes hugely to financial anxiety and to the downturn and failure of economies.
  • I personally have too many clothes,earrings, books, CDs and skeins of yarn…..maybe even shoes.
  • I believe that the oneness of mankind is “built in” and that the suffering of one is the suffering of all; we just don’t seem to realize it
  • I think people are basically good and I think that we can overcome the extremes of wealth during my lifetime if we choose to do so.
  • personal and intellectual freedom seems to have an amazingly positive effect on multiplying material wealth in a society.

So what does it all mean?  Durned if I know; I haven’t got any shining sound bite of a solution.  However, even with all the current wackiness about the economic situation trumpeted so loudly on all sides, I’m not hugely worried.  That might seem strange, and of course right now I and my family aren’t missing any meals either, but those last two observations fill me with hope.

What do you think?

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* This really is an amazing document and I encourage you to read it for real for REAL.

P.S.  I wrote 700 words…I hope that’s OK.  :o)

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One comment

  1. You make a lot of thought-provoking points, and you’ve done a good job of not just writing something to make everyone feel bad. Not easy to do on this subject.

    I had to comment on this point, though.
    > we tend to value property over people (i.e. there are more pet
    > shelters than there are homeless shelters).

    I personally don’t view pets as property (but then again, I’m way overly sentimental and hardly view property as property)–I see them more as other types of people. Also, maybe because of some of the other assumptions you mentioned above, I view the pets as helpless victims of human action, whereas I see the homeless people as having some chance to improve their situation if they really tried. Maybe you’re right and they couldn’t, but it sure seems more likely that they could than that a domesticated cat or dog could, at least in this country.

    You’re right, though, it’s easy for us folks with more than we need to assume that we have all this stuff because we’ve earned it and we deserve it, and anybody who doesn’t have what they need hasn’t tried hard enough or isn’t good enough or whatever. As a person who has never really gone without anything important, I don’t know how to not think that way. I can present counter-arguments to myself, but they never really sink in. Maybe that’s the real reason it’s so difficult for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven–we simply lack compassion. (just speaking for myself here–you don’t seem to lack compassion.)

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