I’ve been seeing it a lot lately. The memes about that lady at the grocery store talking on her iPhone while using food stamps or cash aid. The stories about the MediCare patients who you see at the ER because they seem to have a cold and are wasting our tax money and keeping us from being able to get the emergency services we feel we need. The entitled folks who suck up all of the nation’s resources that you feel should be going to you instead because you are, after all, a tax paying citizen in good standing. I also recently saw a meme to the effect of “life isn’t fair, it’s never going to be fair and you should learn that now. The only reason you should be looking into someone else’s bowl is to see if they have enough, never to see if they have the same or more than you.”
I have knee jerk reactions to both types of posts. Maybe you do, too. What should our reaction be to the first kind of posts? Agreement? Re-share the post and add our own comments? Identifying with either party in the post? Nothing, it isn’t my problem? Educating people about poverty? Depending on your perspective and world view, it could be any of those. How does one deal with poverty when one comes face to face with it? That is a question we all deal with, sometimes on a daily basis.
Let’s look at a scenario. You hear of a family in need. You want to help! So you collect food and toys and hand me downs and you give them those. You feel good! You helped! But did you? Did you ask the family what types of food they eat? What they can afford to buy and what they can’t afford to buy, but need? Or did you just have all of your friends empty out their cupboards of what they don’t need anymore and gift that to the family? Did you ask if they need clothes? Did you ask if they wanted you to buy presents for their children? Did you even consider their humanity and dignity for one second or did you just decide to do what “felt right?” Are they still going to be extremely thankful for your help? Absolutely! Their heart will probably overflow with gratefulness to be remembered and thought of and helped.
Maybe what they actually needed was the dignity of having their children’s gifts come from them, not some beneficial stranger. Did you ever consider that now makes it look like a stranger loves them more than their own parent? Their own parent couldn’t even buy them a gift. Maybe they see it as their parent doesn’t love them enough to buy them gifts, but this stranger/friend did. Maybe what they really needed was a bill to be paid for them. Maybe they need legal help because they are so deep in poverty that is the only way out.
Well, they are poor. I guess if they had dignity, they would have a good job and be providing for themselves instead of relying on others for things.
The poor are not animals. They are humans with feelings, and thoughts on life, and dignity and pride and dreams. Have you ever had to apply for state benefits like food stamps and cash aid and state insurance? Have you ever walked with someone through the process? Have you ever applied for and tried to spend WIC coupons? Let me tell you, it is a dehumanizing process. It is a last resort for most people. It is being kicked in the gut when you are already so low that you decided this was the only way. It is a frustrating, fearful, life and time sucking process. It is very easy to harden yourself and become jaded while trying to get through it.
So where do we go from here? May I suggest that we let go of our feelings of what is fair and what is owed to us and someone not working for what they are getting. Instead can we focus on how we are the same? How we would like to be treated should we find ourselves in a similar situation? How we can respect each other’s humanity and help with actual needs not just perceived needs? Let’s start the conversation. Let’s think and let’s talk and let’s do.