The inspiration for this post came as I was checking in on a student today who was reading a book about nutrition to get “expert words” for his informational writing piece. The picture in the book was of your stereotypical African village and the message was some people struggle to get all their required nutrients. My student then points to the picture and exclaims “Look, they are poor!” What upset me was the tone he used, casual and jovial. To which I replied “Why do you think they are poor?” And from there a fascinating conversation ensued. The long and short of it is that it is hard to be empathetic if you are not able to put yourself in the other’s shoes. You need, if not direct first hand experience, then in the very least a sense of perspective. My student had neither, but this is not something he can be faulted for. It is the way the cards were dealt for him.
But our conversation stuck with me throughout the day. I have lived in Ethiopia for many years and while I have never experienced poverty personally I have experienced it through my interactions on an almost daily basis. So what? The word poverty comes from the Old French “poverte” meaning pauper or poor. But poor in what? What I have come to realize is that poverty is usually a very specific term specifying a dollar figure.
And while having enough money to feel comfortable and safe is no doubt important what is often lost is the quality of life aspect. There are many poor people who are rich in life experiences, and while lacking in hard cash have a caring and loving family. The converse I know is also true. My point is not to pretend to know which is better or worse or more valuable – who am I to make those judgements – rather to be mindful that poverty can be many things and that not all which is gold actually glitters.
March 14, 2018 at 7:25 pm
Perspective is everything.
March 15, 2018 at 8:15 am
When I read your post, I thought of Ruby Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” Have you read it? She makes a distinction between poverty and being poor. She also deals with the unspoken class system of our culture. Very interesting. Very enlightening, as it gives you different lens to view people, especially our students and their families.
March 15, 2018 at 12:08 pm
I am very grateful for both of your posts. I will be looking for this book and in San Francisco now it is not unusual to have kids from the projects sitting next to someone who lives in a multimillion dollar home- makes for interesting, odd, and thought provoking conundrums.