If you are a person who knows what it’s like to be poor, have you ever noticed how quick people of privilege are to attribute aspects of poverty to something that has absolutely nothing to do with your financial situation? Such as, for example, your mental health?
I live in a city of approximately 26,000 people, 30% of whom are at poverty level. Most of the poor people in this city are reasonably happy and healthy. This is one reason why I enjoy the unique city in which I live. But it appalls me how readily some of my wealthier friends will assume that my current poverty must have been caused by a mental health problem, a drug or alcohol problem, or (quite simply) a moral failing.
Although I will be the first to admit that I have mental health issues requiring treatment, I find it disturbing how often these issues will be cited as the reasons for my impoverished condition. Many of the wealthier people who say such things would become much crazier than I am, if they, too, were to suddenly lost their shirts as quickly as I did in the year 2004.
The people who most often allude to this fallacy will usually make no attempt to actually understand my condition. They are clearly looking for a scapegoat — something beyond the scope of their experience that they can use to shift the blame away from the realities of poverty that they do not wish to look at.
“Hey Bob, I really hate to bother you for another loan. I know you’re busy, but my car just broke down terribly. I need it to get to work, and I just can’t afford the bill. Is there any way at all you can help me?”
“Well, Bill, I know you always pay me back, but I’m getting to be a little bit bothered by the fact that you’re not many progress. Don’t you think it’s high time you dealt with your mental health, so that you won’t be so chronically down on your luck?”
Once again, this is classism – pure and simple. It can be incredibly frustrating when one is doing their best to maintain a healthy relationship to society, and the frequent setbacks endemic to poverty are dismissed as signs of poor mental health. Of course one’s mental health suffers when encountering such setbacks. But poor mental health does not cause those setbacks. This is only an assumption on the part of those whose lives are such that they never have to experience such setbacks, and thus don’t know what those setbacks are like.
In short, they don’t know what it’s like to be poor.
Now here’s another thing I’ve noticed. It is often assumed that someone who experiences a life crisis that hurls them into abject poverty — or even homelessness — has gotten there as the result of a moral failing.
“Obviously, Bill screwed up. Nobody gets from where he was to the streets that fast without having done something wrong. That being the case, I have no sympathy for Bob whatsoever.”
“Amen, Brother Bob.”
But the reality is that many people of privilege are extremely slow to let go of what they’ve got. In many cases, their natural stinginess is the reason why they’ve managed to accrue so much in the first place. But many poor people, knowing what it’s like to be poor, will give another poor person the shirt off their back. I myself have been known to give my last twenty dollars to another poor person if I felt they needed it more than I do. When I do so, I am confident they would do the same for me, if the tables were turned.
A lot of people become poor as the result of something good that they have done — something that a rich person, under the same circumstances, might not do. For example, if one’s mother or father is in poor health, perhaps dying, a person who is lower middle class might have their parent come live with them, despite having to take on added medical expenses. A rich person, under the same circumstances, will often send their parent to a retirement home.
Granted, the richer person can afford to send Mom or Dad to the retirement home, and the poor person cannot. But if you were aging, ailing, and dying, where would you rather be? In a retirement home among total strangers? Or with your kids whom you love, knowing that they love you too? Where would you rather die? With your children by your side? Or not?
It is not a moral failing to take care of an ailing parent. It is actually an act of self-sacrificial love. Love, in its purest form, involves sacrifice. When one sends one’s dying mother to an “old folk’s home,” what sacrifice is involved? Only money. But when one invites their dying parent to come live with them, that is a Sacrifice of the Heart.
I find it ironic that people of poverty often are more giving and more loving than people of wealth, and yet in our society it is often assumed that poverty is an effect of moral failing. While moral laxity can certainly lead to poverty, it is definitely not the case that poverty necessarily results from it.
When Jesus appeared on the earth, who did he generally hang around? Rich people or poor people? Anyone with a cursory background in Scripture will know that he hung around the dregs of society, the outcasts, the lepers, the pariahs, those who were so dirt poor they were ostracized and vilified by the Pharisees and Saducees of their day.
If the first arrival of Jesus Christ were to have occurred today rather than two thousand years ago, you know who He would hang around?
The homeless people. For my homeless brothers and sisters are the lepers of today’s society. Let them in! Let all of us in — before it is too late.
Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!