Reflections on the Poverty Cycle

“The fact that people become heroes and sheroes can be credited to their ability to identify and empathize with “the other.” These men and women could continue to live quite comfortably … but they chose not to. They make the decision to be conscious of the other — the homeless and the hopeless, the downtrodden and oppressed. Heroism has nothing to do with skin color or social status. It is a state of mind and a willingness to act for what is right and just.” Maya Angelou

One month ago I came up against a harsh reality: those who are poor very rarely have the ability to fight against their own oppression.

Example: While attempting to start my own garden, I had returned to my car to find one of the tires flat. I had filled it just two days prior. Naturally, it needed to be taken care of immediately, and the nearest trustworthy place was the Goodyear shop. That Goodyear shop would be very kind, but I was stuck for some time because the issues were larger than a tire.

In thinking of what I could do productively with my time, I realized a grocery store was across the way. I could purchase dry goods that I had planned on earlier. Things seemed to work well.

Then I realized it was a Fresh-n-Easy. What’s the issue? Some of the problems with the store don’t even have to do with eco-care; the store’s coffee, for example, is organic and fair-trade, and apparently even some of the profit funds the local grower’s health, education, and land quality (see pictures below):

Unfortunately, there are poor reputation issues with the market, mostly around employer practices and fair pricing. So I felt a tad distraught: it would be very easy for me to shop and take care of my own needs quickly, cheaply and efficiently. But I would also be supporting a company my conscience wouldn’t normally allow. I felt stuck.

And that’s when I realized the idea I mentioned above about the poor. They are often quite literally “stuck.” They have little way to survive without saving as much money as possible; and yet in order to save that money, many of them have to buy from people that would directly or indirectly take advantage of them. So what can they actually do to help their own circumstances?

This is why I find myself even more humbled to realize that, as little as I may have, I still also may have a responsibility to do whatever I can with my resources to help those who have less, because with less you can only do less.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. The answer may not be avoidance of the poor, but deliberately targeting the spots perpetuating the poverty cycle. The answer may not be a boycott, but a campaign to better the company from within (for example, I never would have known about the good things Fresh-n-Easy has done above, without going in; boycotting altogether just discourages those practices that are fair). The answer may not be giving money to those who have less, but using it to support political or economic reform that splinter the “endless” poverty circle to create numerous in-roads towards the world outside of poverty. It may not be any of these. But one thing I feel now:

Help for the impoverished needs to come from outside the impoverishment.


2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Poverty Cycle

  1. I really appreciate this post. thank you.
    Causes me to reflect upon the emotional ruts that we discover at the church I serve, in our attempts to not only serve the impoverished in our community, but to be with them. Often times it is the ‘being with’ them that challenges us.
    For instance, we sponsor a summer lunch program at my church, which attempts to assist families that would be nutritionally challenged when school is not in session. But one of the struggles is that in this attempt to offer support and encouragement, some volunteers feel that they are being ‘used,’ that those families that we are trying to not simply help, but establish relationship with, will not help themselves, are happy to be waited on, are lazy.
    It is an easy thing to say to someone, ‘Pull yourself up by the bootstraps,’ but your post causes me to ponder the emotional effects of poverty. How there is a history, a system of impoverishment that is complex and powerful. The poverty is internalized. Perhaps these folk have never been encouraged, told that they were capable of improving their lot, or given opportunity, so that discouragement give way to apathy. Those of us with educations and opportunities can take those things for granted.

    so that it seems to me that just as important as the nutritional support we offer, is the emotional or spiritual encouragement. And that takes time and patience.


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