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secret Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Back from the Retreat: What is Poverty?

a beautifully verdant view of the hotel from the bottom of the hill

a scene from hotel room (left)

I was rather struck by sissoula’s refreshing honesty when she claimed that she was “so poor” when she was a kid that it got me thinking—what is poverty?

I ask this rather apparently-futile question because I am confused whether such an apparently poor person can now be considered rich by dint of her education and her outlook on life? It also, for me, resonates of the hypocrisy that society creates: you are poor because of the material benefits you ostensibly DO NOT have—a car; a house (whether rented or not is a moot point); sufficient disposable income to do things beyond subsisting.

Is that the difference between poverty and wealth? Lemme re-phrase: what is the difference between poverty and wealth? Is it intellect, or those material things advertising foes enforce on us?

AT the hotel where we were staying an hour outside the capital for the retreat, I met an intelligent young woman whose job function totally belied her intellect. She works in housekeeping at the hotel. She approached me; we started talking. She was very expressive and very educated, yet because she had been unable to continue tertiary education she was stuck in a hotel…for now.

I know she’s gonna go far, but it hurts me that this young lady would be disrespected by some hotel resident because he/she made the monumental mistake of assuming that if she were more educated than that, she wouldn’t be working there at all.

Does McDonalds and struggling students come to mind?

The long and short is that we probably take ourselves too seriously, and make too many assumptions about the people we meet. A (materially/intellectually) poor past doesn’t guarantee a (materially/intellectually) poor future, which means it takes effort and hard work—irrespective of your background to become a better person than you think you are, or can be.

Does Branson who dropped out of secondary school come to mind? And countless others?

But it also throws up the question of whether it is solely intellect or a combination of intellect and EFFORT that makes you a better person.

You may have been poor, but clearly, you were only gonna go somewhere if you applied the two concurrently.

Or is it something different altogether?


At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 7:34:00 am , Blogger sissoula said...

Oh Mr. Bensah -- I just threw that comment out there, not really expecting anyone to read it, much less take it so seriously. I'm touched that you were touched, but now I feel I owe you a clarification. My family wasn't rich by any means, but I don't know what it's like to live in poverty. We had those paper napkins, and we wiped plenty of food off our mouths with them.

There is poverty in America; I don't want to dismiss or diminish that, but what we had wasn't poverty. It was a staunch Protestant work ethic, which says there will be no hand-outs from families. If you want sth, you have to work for it, sometimes struggle for it. You have to get it on your own merit.

My mom tells stories about hard times, but they're only cute in light of everything we DID have, and everything we have now.

I've worked in "menial" jobs that I knew would be temporary, but I did it with pride, alongside men and women whose ultimate pride it was to hold those jobs.

Poverty as a term seems absolute to me; wealth is a little more relative. I agree with you completely that it takes both brains and effort to succeed in life, but I'd add one more ingredient to the mix: opportunity.

I hope that cleaning lady gets hers.

At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 12:32:00 pm , Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Poor is poor but its relative.


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