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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Poverty's Toll

The concept of poverty brings up a tremendous amount of passion and judgments. Most people have an opinion on either how people got into poverty or how they could/should get out of it. But lets put that part of the situation aside for a moment and focus on the actual situation itself (After all, there are plenty of people struggling right now because of a global economic crisis more so than any one thing they have done on their own). What is the actual toll on not just a person in poverty, but what the scenario can mean for their families and their other relationships as well.

Poverty itself is a situation that few people would willfully enter into given a more lucrative option. People want comfort and security in their lives. Poverty takes financial and living security completely out of the equation. Comfort is mostly subjective, but 'subjective' mostly given the surroundings a person lives in. If poverty is 'ok' socio-culturally then that person may be fine with it. If poverty is looked down upon by society then a person may end up ashamed and want to withdraw from that place of humiliation.

But the real toll of this situation comes in its effects on other people, families, and personal relationships. Most people are capable of handling themselves, finding a way to make it all work. Trouble usually comes when they have to look in someone else's eyes. A person looks in the mirror and they know the reasons for their situation, but look in your spouse's eyes, your children's eyes, mother's, etc. That is when things become tough for most people.

But the struggle in this situation does not end with one individual's humility, rather with what it does to these relationships with others over the longer term. Little money for a few weeks or a month – not such a big deal perhaps – but months, years? Look that spouse in the eye, its not the self humility that becomes tough, but the strain that 'life' comes to be under. The stress of the bills, the food, the housing, etc. This type of stress is felt by everyone – not just the one without the job. And sadly this is disproportionally felt by children. More than half of those in poverty in the US are children. It is not their fault, nor can they do much about it. But that does not mean they don't struggle just as much as anyone or feel the direct affects any less than an adult. Kids are as subject to external and peer pressures as anyone – if not more. If they go to school and they don't have things, they need special lunch assistance, they can't go places or do things after school that others may be able to, they feel the same shame, the same humility, but when they look in the mirror they don't see the same reasons the unemployed parents do. They just see the embarrassment, the dissatisfaction, their parents that can't seem to provide fro them. Some of these kids, turn this into blame and resentment. An estranged familial relationship the circles out of control from child to parent and back. And who is to blame? If a parent is laid off due to an outsourced job to Indonesia, is the parent at fault? Does it matter to the child? Maybe not.

Spouses are not much different. When a person commits their life to another person they look to that person for support, love, etc. But what happens when one person is not able to support their end of a bargain? What kind of strain does this put on a relationship? Is it easier to love in prosperity than in poverty? We all want to share in joy and success, but difficulty and despair are tougher to deal with. And then what happens when choices have to start being made, tough choices? There is no going out, little time with friends, no money spent of 'leisure' things or activities. When does that person become less worthy? Life becomes stressful. Which bill do you pay this month, can you make rent, is today meat or veggies? Should we cut out or down the health insurance? What kind of decision making positions does this put people in, and in-turn what kind of pressure is a relationship put under? Choices between 'necessities' can lead to arguments, disagreements, fights. If you don't have to make those tough choices, would a disagreement ever takes place?

I am not illuminating anything new here, poverty is felt by all, even those that don't realize it or ever see it directly in front of them. From loved ones, to children, to simple friends, to strangers, society is wrapped up in its affects. It is important to recognize the pain, the pressure people come under, and it is important to try to understand this feeling and sympathize with it. A person in poverty is struggling inside and out. This is where we need to start our thought process rather than in spending so much time trying to assess blame for 'why' and 'how'. In doing this we forget about the 'what' that is happening. People in society – and their families – need society's support, not their pity, their indifference, or malice.   

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