Gratitude Sunday: If You Never; or, Polish Your Lens

Gratitude * Sunday

Quote of the Week – “In a sane, civil, intelligent, and moral society, you don’t blame poor people for being poor.” Andrew Young

Sunday Haiku
Glorious dark gray,
gloomy, damp, cool, mid-spring days
amid bright flowers.

Sunday Musings
Empathy is not a natural concept to many people. To think beyond oneself is hard. We might not like to think we do so, but we judge everybody and everything around us by the only lens we have, that of ourselves. To think beyond oneself one must look through the lens of the other.

We often do not recognize these biases. We’ll say “I’m color blind” to race when in fact we are not, but we do not see our biases. We want to help the poor but then want an accounting of their assets and income to prove they are in need before offering aid, though god forbid anyone question what we own.

If we’ve never struggled to pay the rent, we don’t understand why somebody else does.

If we have never experienced back pain or chronic pain, we do not understand the disability of limited movement and brain changes from the pain.

If we have never shopped for groceries because our wealth allows us to pay somebody else to do that task for us, we cannot conceive of being hungry enough to dig through somebody else’s garbage.

If you’ve never been followed through the store by a clerk who watches every move you make, you cannot know the fear of distrust.

If our wealth allows us to replace our car every year, or buy multiple cars on whims and desire, we have no concept of trying to keep a twenty year old vehicle running when there is no income for maintenance.

If we have always had an easy time finding and keeping employment, we do not understand why other people cannot do the same.

If you inherited wealth, have never worked a day in your life, and have always had enough of everything you’ve ever wanted whenever you wanted it, you cannot understand the person who works full time for minimum wage and still cannot afford housing and food.

If we have never experienced deprivation, we have no knowledge of what it feels like to do without or to not even have a choice.

If we have never experienced financial security, we may have no imagination on which to base a concept of ease and comfort.

If you’ve never had to dig through every pocket and bag to locate a dollar’s worth of change to put into the gas tank to get to work, you do not understand the importance of a handful of coins.

If we have never had to ask for public assistance to eat, to stay warm, or to prevent an eviction, we do not understand the indignities of asking for help.

If you’ve never had to get food from a food bank, you do not know the indignity of receiving food other people would not eat and be expected to be thankful for it.

If you’ve never bought a latte, you do not understand the person who suggests you would have better control of your money if you bought fewer lattes.

If you have only ever been concerned about your own comfort, you will not understand being concerned about the comfort of others.

I’m not saying people should abdicate personal responsibility. We should do everything we are capable of to help ourselves and others. But there is so much entirely beyond our control, and when the uncontrollable parts become overwhelming people need to have dignified assistance and should not be judged as to whether or not we “deserve” help. Everybody is worthy of dignity. Everybody is worthy of help.

I am becoming familiar with the proposal of “universal basic income,” the concept of giving individuals a monthly income, not to replace earned income, but in addition, to provide a secure reliable amount of money to help people eat, pay rent, keep warm, or have more resources to find work or education. In discussing this idea with others I have found several points of view, some of which are disturbing to me. I began thinking about lenses and why people think what they think.

The easiest concept to wrap my mind around is the poor are poor through no fault of their own, and they are willing to work within their abilities if given a chance. What I see is even when the poor are able to secure employment it is no guarantee they will succeed any more than anybody else. And we often have fewer tools with which to make decisions, less education or access to information to help with financial decisions, including the fact that every dollar earned goes out just as fast as it comes in just to pay bills and eat; rarely is there any money left to save for the future. It costs more to be poor: when one can’t afford health insurance one pays full price; when you don’t have cash when the sale is on at the store one pays full price; when one doesn’t qualify for additional scholarships, one pays full price; when one has to have financing on a used car, the financing often creates the conundrum of paying more for a used car than it is worth.

The concept most disturbing to me is that poor people are lazy and of low character, and responsible for their own poverty, though this is not what I have seen or experienced. I’ve seen poor people working two or three jobs to support themselves and their families, and I’ve seen poor people to be enterprising up to and including illegal activities just to pay the rent so they don’t have to live on the streets or under a bridge. I’m not condoning illegal activities; I’m acknowledging desperation when other avenues, politically correct socially acceptable avenues, fail.

I came to realize the people who embraced this idea of basic income were people who would gain a huge difference in their lives from the help, people who had experienced generational poverty and despite education and working hard all their lives could not, through no fault of their own, rise above the poverty they’d been dealt. They have no bootstraps to pull up, and barely a boot at that.

I also realized the people who claimed basic income would make people lazy were the people who hadn’t worked as hard, who had all their goals and plans go according to plan, who had a little inheritance here or there, and who had enough cushion and financial knowledge and maybe even an average (pleasing, acceptable, employable) physical appearance with which to feel secure.

In other words, the poor saw the step-up basic income might provide like being able to afford to buy a home rather than rent, or afford education or better quality food, or to pay the heat in the winter without begging for assistance to pay the bill. I have found poor people know enough about their own families and their own situation to apply additional income in the places that make the most difference in their lives. It doesn’t include buying lattes, but sometimes a new phone gives you a better connection to a new job.

The people I talked to who had achieved comfort on their own judged more harshly through their own lens. The “I did it on my own, why can’t they” folks could not conceive of plans not going according to plan. The “Why don’t they work harder” folks had no concept of working three jobs and still not being able to make ends meet. The “They should make better choices” folks had no concept of repeated tragedies, and unforeseen needed repairs and catastrophes. The “It will just make poor people lazier” folks would choose more leisure time with their basic income because they already have all the basics covered and extra income would be EXTRA, not necessary to making those proverbial ends meet, the leisure time for the comfortable being a choice, though the correlation being if the poor chose leisure time with their additional money it would make them lazy, a point of view so circular my head spins. More plainly stated, if a comfortable person chose leisure time with additional money it was because they were lucky enough to have all their duckies in a row, when the poor do so they are lazy as if they do not “deserve” time off or vacation because they are poor. Spinning, spinning. The thing is, few poor people will choose leisure time with the additional income as there are too many pressing financial issues to keep the wolves from the door and the roof from caving in.

Basic income might work, or it might not. There are many studies that say it would and few to dispute it. Financial assistance is helping raise poverty levels in many of the poorest countries on earth, countries where people live on a dollar a day, where the help of a few dollars a month can buy better seed or feed people when weathering a crop failure.

My question: why resent helping other people? If we have enough, does it hurt us to share? We are only as good as the least of us; everyone benefits when we help each other.

The studies I referred to above show when poverty is raised for the poorest, everybody benefits, including the more wealthy. Money received by poor people is usually spent locally, while the money of the wealthy can often be spent outside the community, because the wealthy have more options. Money given to the poor then strengthens the whole community, not just the individual recipients.

If you are one of those people who has always had enough, and think poor people are poor because they are lazy and of low character, consider one of those poor people may be a member of your family or a person who has no family to call on. Consider opening your heart and the lens you view others with. Listen to their stories and don’t judge. Imagine what it is like to be shot down at every turn, to have all efforts go awry despite tenacity and persistence. Imagine repeated failures in the face of effort and desperation.

Imagine the strength of a community when all members stand for each other, who aren’t judged but are instead supported in their efforts. Imagining a better world doesn’t start with money. It starts with opening your heart and caring for others and trusting people to make their own wise choices.

Color Watch – colorful attractions in my neighborhoods this week – The strange otherworldly pinkish colors of the hellebore. Brilliant purple allium globes. Two toned pink columbines. My favorite pale pink oriental poppy. The fields surrounding my semi-rural community are alive with crimson clover this week, like somebody scattered red paint splotches over the earth.

Current View – {These are only my opinions about movies and books, but don’t let me stop you from trying these reviewed items yourself; your opinion may differ.} Binged through seasons 6 and 7 of Call the Midwife (2012 – to present, rated TV – MA), hoping all the birth would be uplifting. One cannot have birth without death, so there’s that. I’ve seen enough umbilical cords cut for the rest of my life; must be their favorite scene (“let’s make it look real!”) * And binged through two seasons of The Good Place (2017 – to present, rated TV – PG14) with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. This “alternative” view of “heaven” is silly fun humor.

Currently ReadingJust Give Money to the Poor: The Development Revolution from the Global South (2010, world social development) by Armando Barrientos, David Hulme, and Joseph Hanlon. The question of “deserving” poor and “undeserving” poor arises. I don’t understand the question. Poor is poor; reasons why are likely irrelevant. * Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (2018, sociology) by Rebecca Traister (American author). Women are half our world; to discount us is to err.

Dance Lesson Update – one month: I’m able to stand up and lift my feet in time (mostly) to the music for the whole nearly four minutes of song. I’ve learned one of the steps and I’m still faking the rest, but I’m still standing at the end of the song.

This week I have been grateful for:

  • Enduring yet another excruciatingly rough week.
  • All the love we were able to give and all the love we received from Mister Kitty aka George Murphy who now has his forever place in the sun.
  • Sleeping through sorrow.
  • How immediate sorrow seems to bring up every other sorrowful moment to re-live again. At least re-living it means you are still feeling something.
  • Standing outside in the rain.
  • Being mostly done with the bronchial cough that came out of nowhere.
  • Back scratchers for those places I can’t quite reach.
  • Hair clips.
  • Missing the mind I used to have, and grateful for what I still have.
  • Listening to university commencement, just far enough away, such a glorious accomplishment for the graduates. Another yearly milestone marked.
  • People who bother to listen to the passion and anger behind words.
  • Becoming aware of my empathetic nature at an early age.
  • New red potatoes, sugar snap peas, leaf lettuces.
  • Water.

Hoping you have a lovely week.

Namaste. Peace. Blessings.

Floral ribbon border by Laurel Burch

This entry was posted in Aging, Education, GRATITUDE, Grief, Health, History, Nature, Photography, Poetry, Politics, Work and Labor and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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