I read a Facebook post today talking about the moralistic fallacy we make when we make we we equate what “ought” to be (that hard work will lead to financial stability) from what “is” (that in our context hard work in only one factor, whose influence is often small compared to, say, if your parents have money). How embedded this is in our society can be seen in so many ways. You can see it in dehumanizing system we force those in poverty to go through to get their meager benefits. We can see it in how we think we should have a say in what folks on food stamps do with their limited money. And we can see it in the reality that those of us in the middle class and up actually see those in poverty and living on the streets as less than human.
The fact is, this myth needs to stop. It is hurting people. I am not saying I have all the answers, but if we can't recognize that our economic "success" is not just about how hard we work or how smart we are, we will continue to lose the imagination we need to ask better questions and find better solutions. And there will continue to be a larger and larger wall between those in poverty and those in the middle class, a wall that desperately needs to be broken down, because it is preventing the relationships and community that is vital to moving forward.
I say all of this as a pastor, and I see relationship and community as central to anything we do in regards to those in poverty. But I think this goes beyond the faith community. Our whole society would be better if we stopped blaming the poor for their situation, and took the time to get to know them. If we truly listened to the complex situations and forces that led people to end up where they are.
How can we do this better? How can we begin to create a culture that sees success outside of money and power? How can we challenge these harmful myths that ignore things like class and privilege and put the blame solely on poor people? And how can begin to imagine, and create, communities where one’s economic situation is not a hinderance to being a participant in the life of the community?
We can do better. I know we can. Let's do it together.
*In case anyone wants to ask, yes, I occasionally met folks who were ok living outside. But it was a very small number. Most, by far, did not want to be there. Some had lost hope. Some did not know how there could get out of where they are. But very, very, very few were actually ok with living outside. This is another myth that needs to go away.