And Jesus said, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and expect nothing in return. Unless they bought an XBox, then screw ‘em.” – Ramsey 2:16
The most prevalent argument against programs which combat poverty is that poor people deserve to be poor because they make bad decisions. Of all these so-called bad decisions, the one that is rising to the top is that poor people buy stuff they don’t deserve. Not just pundits and talk-show hosts, but even friends and family, who I normally consider reasonable, say stuff like, “What right have they to be on government assistance? They have a TV!” Where does this vitriol come from? Why do we demand saint-like virtue of the poor?
A Double-Standard Which Shows Our Own Greed
No one bats an eye when a rich person throws money away on obvious excesses and luxuries. No matter how extravagant someone lives, we just say “Well, they earned it. They can do whatever they want.” But that’s not the worst part, because the most harmful thing you can do with money is nothing at all. As the wealthy hoard their money, the economy grows anemic. Even today, this is one of the biggest reasons our economy is so slow. But again, we say nothing because our culture doesn’t base virtues on their own merit, we base virtues on class.
The truth is that we have different virtues for the rich and poor because we all hope to be rich one day, even if we feel it is unlikely. If the time ever comes that we “make it” we don’t want anyone telling us what to do either. In the meantime, we fight for everything we own and accumulate. We live every day envying the nice car our neighbors have, the new house our friends bought, or the vacation our co-worker took. Because of this, it makes us angry to think someone needing our help may have something nice.
How Many of Us Really Spend Money Virtuously?
I am NOT saying that we should be foolish with our money, don’t get me wrong. Everyone should learn to budget and spend wisely so that they can be as self-sufficient as possible. What I am saying is that none of us do this perfectly. We all spend money on frivolous things, we all make bad decisions from time to time, and we all struggle (at least for a time) to live in our means. Why then have grace for ourselves to “get out of debt” but condemn a single mother on food stamps for buying a TV? (Or having a TV as we don’t actually know how they got it, maybe someone gave it to them? Did you ever think of that? Sheesh.)
You Think People Can Live Without Any Luxuries? OK, You First!
Before you go accusing the poor of wasting money things that are “unnecessary,” why don’t you try living with only the bare necessities. The truth is that, especially with raising kids, a TV can really feel like a necessity. Especially for a single mother, it may be the only break she gets in a day. Why don’t you try eating out of can (only the cheap stuff, no organic food!) and see how you feel after a few days? Why don’t you try never leaving your house, never relaxing to a movie, never having a drink, and never use a computer. Seriously, you would go crazy (unless you’re Amish, but that is another story altogether).
Yes, I Would Buy a Struggling Family an XBox
Probably the biggest difference between being in poverty and being middle-class and higher is the hope of a better life. Middle-class families often practice deferred gratification because they believe life will continue to get better. To those in poverty, life feels like it will always be this way. When a poor family has a little spare money, they are going to spend it on things that makes their life a little better now. And believe me, taking a family with nothing and putting an XBox in the middle of the house is like giving them a whole new life. The kids feel stimulated, the parents get a bit a break, and everyone feels like things just got a little better. Sure, I would probably get a used one or look a deal, but I do that for everything anyway.
If You Want to Help Someone, Talk to Them
Before you all send me requests for an XBox, I want to make sure I am understood here. I am not saying we should start a charity to buy video games and TV for the poor. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t judge people from a distance. Once you understand a person’s challenges, you may find that things you once thought of as luxuries may indeed be necessities. Toys feel like luxuries until you see children who don’t have any. Microwaves may seem optional until you see what it is like to live in a food desert (no access to fresh produce.) Our assumptions make us blind to the real problems.
The bottom line is that if you want to help someone, you have to talk to them and understand their circumstances. We can’t, as a society, create rules for other people to live by and then get infuriated when they don’t meet our expectations. Judging people from a distance is poison which infects both parties, hurting them and closing our own hearts. Besides, we could all have our lives take a turn for the worse, things we bought while our incomes were strong would look like excesses when the money runs out. How would we want people to think of us?
Yaholo is a practical mystic, a passionate writer, a paltry poet, and an old-school Jesus Freak. You can read more and see his homepage at http://www.yaholo.net
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