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April 05, 2011

Poverty: Is it really their fault?

 There is no such thing as poverty in nature

 I wanted to write something about my experience working at the island's employment centre now that I've decided to move on, but, for whatever reason, I always have trouble writing about those things in my life that have affected me deeply. Then, yesterday, I saw the story in The Victoria Times Colonist about the Salvation Army's Dignity Project. A project that referred to the results of a poll conducted by Ipsos Reid in January 2011 on 1,025 Canadians in order to gather their perceptions on  people who are financially poor.  

I read the absolutely astounding figure (how can that be accurate?) that 50% of the people polled believe that a family of 4 should be able to live off $30,000 a year.  About one in 11 people in Canada lives in poverty and that number, according to Statistics Canada, has remained stable in the past decade. Picture children. In B.C. and Canada, they are a large number of the poor. This poll made me angry because, once again, the complexity of the human condition, through a poll, is reduced to unhelpful simplicity. 

Almost 25% of those polled said that poor people are in that position because "they are lazy" and they have "lower moral values" than those who are not poor. 

But, having worked at the employment centre on Salt Spring Island, what I mostly came to understand, or deduce, were circumstances that began so much earlier in a person's life to shape their current challenging realities. What I saw was the very reason why the philosophy behind The Centre for Child Honouring needs to exist.

Perhaps you`ve heard the statement `Hurt people hurt people. And, hurt families hurt each member. The results of that hurt can haunt people for life. The results show up in a lack of self esteem that leads to addictions. I saw mental health conditions that dampened potential.  Occasionally, very rarely, I saw laziness. 

Judging people who are poor does not  allow room for understanding about what it's like to be raised by alcoholics or drug addicts. It has no room for learning disabilities or sexual abuse endured as a child. There's no time to care about what it must be like to be a First Nations person in Canada or to have survived residential school, to live with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome through no fault of your own. So much for overcoming disabling bouts of depression as a result of circumstances that may have led to it in the first place.

Myths about poverty do not take into consideration what life might be like if both your parents died when you were an infant. Stereotypes about the poor being  lazy do not account for all those people known as `the working poor` who have more than one nearly minimum-wage job. There is no acknowlegement about the reality of people who are driven to create - artists, writers, musicians, poets, actors - often poor because of how little their talents are valued in a world where money seems to have become the exclusive form of currency.

The moral superiority and false security that stems from having more than enough money does not believe in the existence of `bad luck`. It doesn`t dare allow for the realities of  illness and accidents, especially without insurance. There is no accounting for how the actions from our past lives may play a part in current realities regardless of your moral fortitude.

When did our value as human beings become so entangled with how much money an external force decided we were worth?  I`ve known what it`s like to have very little money. I know it now. I have also known what it`s like to live off a salary as a single person that some families of four can only imagine. Neither circumstance changed who I am at the core of my being.

One of the things that the job at the employment centre showed me about myself that I`m really glad to know is that I do have the ability to look beyond someone`s current circumstances, however wretched, and see their spirit.

Yes, for sure, I would lose my patience. There were days of judgment and annoyance and disbelief and dislike and exasperation but always, I could usually overcome my surface reaction and see the heart and soul behind behaviours that were, in the moment, blocking a clear view of every unique self that walked through the door. My co-worker could do the same. I believe it may be one of the most important requirement to work there or perhaps to work with people in general.  

All these poll results say to me is that too many of us are still so extremely judgmental, especially of that which we most fear.

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