Okay, I have posted a few links in the days leading up to today. As I was thinking about what to write, I decided to talk about what poverty is (and what it isn’t). And a little bit on abundance. This is my own perspective/opinion, if it helps you, great — if not… would love to hear your opinions, too.
I think that poverty is partly defined by what one lacks, and is also partly a matter of perspective. I’ll start with the second point first: in our area, most families have at least two cars, few students get free or reduced lunches, and at least in my acquaintance most people have health insurance. So a family with only one car, whose children receive free lunches and doesn’t have health insurance appears poor. But in another community I have lived in that isn’t that far away, few people own more than one beat-up car, no one has health insurance and nearly every child gets a free school lunch. In that community, the family with two cars that has to pay full price for school lunches appears well off. Obviously, if everyone around you doesn’t have enough to eat then you are all poor…
Perspective can cause you to “feel” rich, or to “feel” poor.
Certainly, our ancestors of 200 years ago who lived in homes with two or three rooms, an outhouse and no automobile didn’t feel deprived! They worked hard physically, but they weren’t poor in relation to others in their communities, and were better off than people who lived in one-room cabins with no outhouse. But if we had to live that way, most of us (at least those of us with internet access) would feel poor indeed!
Now to the first point. There are some pretty clear hallmarks of poverty that transcend time and place. They are a lack of adequate nutrition, a lack of medical care (appropriate to the resources of the time and place, for example people in rural areas don’t have easy access to highly skilled orthopedic surgeons as a general rule…), a lack of education appropriate to the time and place, and — it seems to me — a lack of optimism that pervades the community.
There is a certain grim reality that faces all too many people from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep — the day is filled with work or with worry. They rush from task to task trying to make ends meet, or sit listlessly because no tasks await them. There is no way out, for various reasons.
They may work hard, they may have leisure time and joyful times, but the overall rhythm of the days, weeks, months, and years is one of depressed economy and worry. THIS is poverty.
What poverty definitely is NOT: Having to wear last year’s winter coat (or the one from ten years ago) because you have better uses for $300 right now. Having to say “no” to an extracurricular activity for your child because you can’t afford it. Having to choose between presents or a meal out for a special occasion. Making good use of your resources so nothing goes to waste in order to afford a newer car.
Most of us could, I believe, do with a little belt-tightening. Even in my family’s relatively austere lifestyle there are areas where we splurge a bit: we have cable TV and internet access; we don’t always buy our clothes at used clothing stores; we don’t shop at “discount” stores that have low prices but drive more traditional businesses out; we don’t often take actual vacations. We sometimes buy pre-prepared foods for the freezer, or even go out for meals. All of the things I have just mentioned are truly optional. We would survive without them.
We would not, however, be able to survive without at least one reliable car (which we have, the other car is not reliable and could fail at any moment), due to my medical problems and the distance from bus service. We would not survive without at least a dial-up telephone line, for contact with the children’s schools and medical emergencies. We would not survive without the ability to put food on our growing kids’ table, or occasional “new” (to us at least) clothes and shoes for the growing kids. These are not luxuries in our place and time.
When I put things into perspective, I find that there is a disconnect between people who say they are “just scraping by” and those who really are… I have taught my children that if they have “enough” they are rich. But I have heard other children bemoan having to wait for the newest video game. What are we teaching our children? Can they be happy if they think enough to eat and a comfortable home are an impoverished condition?
The current economic downturn certainly affects us all, but for most of us the impact doesn’t drive us into poverty, just into conservation and a little more awareness of where the dollars are spent. We can use this time to teach our children and ourselves the meaning of abundance.
Abundance is, quite simply, enough. To have enough for yourself, for those you care about, and a little extra to help others out.
Surprisingly, it is often people from less affluent communities who share resources the most. There is an attitude that hoarding is anti-social — people share what they can, when they can. And reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. Being part of a society means that we support each other the best way we know how.
A simple change in perspective can help a person move from an impoverished mindset to one that acknowledges and supports abundance. If we have an abundance, then we can work to improve not just our own lives, but those of people who have less than we do.
Want to help combat poverty? Here are a couple of websites on microlending and other “helper” sites:
- Make Micro Loans at MicroPlace
- Make a donation to help combat diseases at Change.org
- the United Nation’s Stand Against Poverty Day is Friday…
And for even more perspective, and ideas, visit the Blog Action Day website.