Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Don't Understand

OK, I have a confession to make, something that may be a little bit touchy with some of you. I have never understood people being uncomfortable with or prejudiced against those of another race, simply because they are another race. But I have to admit that classism I can relate to. I don't understand poor people.

One might try to argue that I haven't spent a lot of time with them, so I couldn't be expected to understand them well. And no, I don't know many folks living under the poverty level. But I have very good friends who have struggled to stay afloat financially all their lives. I love them, I enjoy them, in some cases I have strong spiritual bonds with them . . . but I don't always understand them.

People accuse "rich Republicans" of assuming that if someone is poor, it's their own fault. That's a nasty accusation, because if true, it reveals a cold, merciless heart. I certainly don't think that every poor person is personally to blame for their own poverty. I recognize the power of outside circumstances. Yet, there are things that I see even my responsible, intelligent poor friends whom I love do that simply do not make sense to me.

Like, failing to put money in savings, even if it's only a dollar a week. Give up your cable TV and let that money accumulate interest so you have something to fall back on when emergencies happen. This is such a no-brainer for me, I find it truly incomprehensible that anyone would do otherwise.

Or, not prioritizing their children's education. So much of a child's future success is wrapped up in their ability to learn, and when someone's academic skills are limited, their choices in life are limited. At the very least, read to your kids when they are young. You can get books for free at the library.

Here's the confessional part: because these choices seem SO obviously bad to me, I don't always have much compassion for those who make them. I need to understand them to feel their pain with them. Why don't you skip your weekly movie night and put that money in savings? Do you not know the value and importance of saving? Do you know it, but not have the self-discipline to do it (I can sympathize with that -- witness my increasing dress size)? Have you heard it, but you don't believe it's truly that important? Is it such a foreign concept to you that you're not even sure how to begin to accomplish it? Is there something in your "world" that legitimately keeps you from doing it?

I want to understand. Really. I want so much to believe the best of people.

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