Rich man, poor man

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In all these years I’ve lived a privileged life, I never realized something until watching two documentaries the other day. One, called Human. The other called Living on One Dollar. Both can be found on YouTube. The realizations were about poverty.

I remember my days of scraping to get by. Of working really hard to get ahead. Saving, saving, saving and going without. I wasn’t handed much by my middle class parents. I ate ramen noodles and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch during college. I remember my mom giving me money to buy some clothes once, when I told her the story of how my two rich roommates would trade outfits with each other but no one wanted to borrow any of my clothing.

It was hard, but it wasn’t impossible. I did it, with sacrifice. And my dad pulled himself out of poverty by putting himself through college at Northeastern, back when that was the intent of the college, to allow people time to work to pay their tuition. My dad didn’t come from the middle class. His parents were blue collar and hard working but didn’t make money beyond paying for the necessities. They never owned a house.

So, this has always been my perspective. Work hard, make sacrifices, and you get ahead. Part of that sacrifice for us was me working much of the kids growing up years, and choosing a job that paid well even though it also demanded much and I would have much rather just have been able to focus on being a mom.

But, really, what a privileged life I’ve led. And I know it. When people complain about money, I know I am rich compared to most of the world. It’s all about perspective. I don’t think most of us realize we have enough money. We always want more.

So, back to the documentaries. In Human, there were a bunch of people talking about their work. And poverty. They worked long hard hours at terrible jobs and they didn’t know what else they could do. One man said he didn’t have the intellectual strength to figure out a way out. Another man told – with tears in his eyes – of how two of his family members died because they couldn’t afford the medical care they needed.

In living on One Dollar, a group of young men voluntarily went to Guatemala to live like the people there live. They brought enough money to live on one dollar a day and had a system where they pulled out a number randomly each day to mimic not getting paid some days. They started living on rice and beans. They quickly grew hungry and lost the energy to do the work they needed to do to survive. They interviewed a Guatemalan who said some days his children just had tortillas to eat. And during those times they didn’t get the nutrition they needed to have the energy to go outside to play.

Did you process that, dear reader?

There are people that are in poverty where it is so bad that they can’t figure out how to get out. Where, even if they can buy food, they have to buy cheap stuff to fill their bellies but it is devoid of nutrition which makes them what the privileged world would call lazy.

These people need our help. Period. As fellow human beings with compassion.

Yes, there are and will always be truly lazy people in this world. Just as there will be evil people. But do we want to punish those who could really use some help to make enough money to live because some people abuse that help? And do we really think America is great when this is happening on our own shores? Really, it is happening all over the world. Affluence and poverty, side by side.

I say it’s time for us all to wake up and snap out of this crazy nightmare. Reconsider your perspective on the truly poor and let’s all use our brains and other talents to figure a way out of this mess. And those of us with money also need to carefully consider how we are spending it. Are we buying things that perpetuate the system of slave labor on substandard wages? That’s what one man in Human said. That we need to hold ourselves accountable.

I end with this…

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