It’s BAD day (blog action day) around the world and this year’s action revolves around poverty. BAD is a day when privileged people like me, who have access to a computer and the internet, can add fuel to the (sadly only lukewarm it seems) debate on the haves and have nots, on privilege, social justice and responsibility. We sit down, we tap out our opinions, not without some guilt I suspect, as we sip a fresh-brewed coffee made from clean water. But of course BAD is good. Whatever our motivation we the ordinary-privileged should reflect upon this challenge to our humanity, and do something about it. Our imaginations and our reach need stretching in what our Prime Minister calls dangerous economic times … a crisis brought on by irresponsibility, greed and ‘extreme capitalism.’
What on earth can I say or do as an individual about poverty? What I can add to this debate is neither ground-breaking nor especially original. I am sure today there are posts that are far more inspiring … I hope so. But this is a personal response because that is what I believe is needed. BAD has forced me to think about poverty and my relationship to it during this day … indeed it is now BAD+1 where I’m writing from in Australia … it’s taken me that long to come around to putting words down. I thought even of not writing anything as a response, but of course that serves no purpose whatsoever. The very community here is what supports us all. Here is what I have been thinking through during the past 24 hours or so.
Like many privileged people, I have acquired the materialistic bug over the years. I like shiny things, gadgets, being what I call ‘comfortable.’ No these are not the basics: food, water, shelter; I’ve never lived below that economic marker that politicians and social workers call the poverty line. I am privileged through accident of birth, the acquisition of a good education, and a career that has helped to pay for those nice things in life. I am privileged through family and friends, acquaintances and where I live. I can travel freely, live in a society that gives me as a woman and a citizen freedom of a kind unknown in many other places. What is my responsibility then to those who have none of these things? Do I have a responsibility? My education, moral and social inclinations tell me that yes, I do. The frustration is how to do something … anything to make a difference. Do I believe that one person can make a difference to a subject as appalling as poverty? Yes I do.
The problem is that many, and I include myself here, find themselves somewhat shockingly, to be immune to images and even to the reality of material poverty amongst others. I flick the channels at the sight of yet another child ravaged by malnutrition, homelessness, injury in some godforsaken part of the world ‘out there.’ Over the years I have sponsored children through World Vision, give to other local care charities … cast off clothing and goods, books to be sold on or to assist. I’d rather give something I don’t want or need any more than sell. Perhaps that indicates some residue of generosity. But I feel I am not sufficiently generous any more. I do feel paralysed by the inertia of the size of global poverty. If I have the philosophical belief in the power of one, then what can this one person do?
Like the movement to take some responsibility for the global warming crisis, there needs a personal response that is meaningful and appropriate to the individual, and it needs perhaps to take us face to face with the real tragedy of poverty … to see for ourselves. I wonder if we had the ‘beam me up’ technology of StarTrek, if we could somehow materialise ourselves into the middle of a refugee camp or a slum or the empty kitchen of a fellow citizen would our behaviours change … and for how long? Living simply so others might simply live is another mantra that is attractive and possible for individuals. The price of a meal a week given to a charity would be meaningful; I remember setting up a 40 Hour Famine group in my last year or so of school some 40 years ago now and being met with hostility by the parents of my fellow students. It wasn’t healthy apparently! Maybe … but it was effective in bringing the power of our imaginations and reality together.
Whatever I can do … with cash, goods, by living a little simpler and resisting the lure of more nice things, lobbying any politician out there, through volunteering to assist in adult literacy … because there is poverty of another kind when a man or woman cannot read … is what I have been thinking about doing on this Blog Action Day.
I’ve not polished or edited this post very much and I’d ask you to see it more in the nature of a diary entry to myself. Thank you for reading this far.