Poverty, like death, is something that is all around us, but we like to pretend it doesn’t exist and could never happen to us.
Most cultures have prejudices toward the poor. I’ve noticed this when I travel. I’ve had translators in China and Cambodia who wondered why I would want to talk to people who worked in a factory or lived in a slum. I’ve had plenty of translators and friends who’ve said things like “They talk uneducated,” and they do things because “they don’t know better.” For many of my translators, the poor in their country are as invisible to them as the poor in my own had been to me until I started to volunteer. Researchers found that tourists on slum tours in India looked at slum residents as a positive part of a community and culture, while they perceived the homeless in their own communities as lazy or addicts. We are harsher critics of the poor in our own communities.
The narrative of the American Dream where if you work hard you will succeed lends itself to an undercurrent of the inverse: Those who don’t work hard aren’t successful, as if poverty is solely a condition of lack of effort.
We fear poverty; we are made uncomfortable by poverty. We judge people. We ignore people. We put the responsibility on the poor and not on ourselves, until we meet them.
How are you facing poverty in your own community?
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