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Being poor

September 11th, 2005 at 05:32 am

I read this essay/prose poem in the middle of last week, and there's a thread on it on this site. The link is here:

Text is and Link is

I've been thinking about it all week.

Most of the essay above was in an urban setting, but the connotation carried it; reading it brought back a flood of memories. Sister and I grew up on a farm, as a matter of fact, the farm that we now inherit. Our family had no money, just cows and crops and land. Times bounced around from being bad to being really bad.

Being poor is more than just a lack of money. Heck, being frugal means you either have no money or you have less money than you'd like. Fifteen years ago, as a grad student, I lived on $600/month. While it truly, truly sucked, and yes I was poor, and yes I despaired about it, it felt different than being straight poor like in my childhood.

Being poor is also a state of mind. Its despair, its depression, its the pessimism of the same dark grayness, and that grinds on you more than the lack of money does. Being poor means you think that the future is going to be the same as the present - gray and terrible - and that you deserve only what have and what life and fate throws at you.

The dividing line between poor and not poor, I think, is optimism. During grad school, I was working toward a goal, and was optimistic that I would succeed. Being frugal is also a sign of're saving money for a plan, a purpose, for something better in the future. If you have a lack of funds, being optimistic means that you accept help when you need it, and allow people to help you. Most optimists are aware of choices, ask about them and go after them. You believe you have a better future.

Before you start thinking that I'll spout the take-responsiblity-freemarket republican line, I want to let you all know that I'm, if anything, a yellow dog democrat. (It used to be that a yellow dog democrat would vote for a yellow dog in the road before voting republican; truth be told, that yellow dog is looking good all by itself.)

2 Responses to “Being poor”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Excellent post, Baselle. A local talk show host raised the question yesterday, "Why are people poor," and I'd been rolling it around in my mind all morning. The closest I could put my finger on it was "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." The question is, why won't he drink?

    I work in a public library in a town where the poverty rate is pretty high. The library is heavily used, which is great. But it's frustrating to see some people playing computer games or watching music videos all day when they could be using our resources to make or save some money. Especially when you know they originally came in to file for unemployment online and don't seem to be looking for another job. OTOH, there are people who come in and do look up how to fix things themselves, sew, budget, cook low cost meals, put together a resume, etc. It's not necessarily a lack of access to technology or books, or a fear of using computers. It's personal beliefs and decisions about how to use those resources that holds some people back.

    All I can figure is, some people think it's worth it to try, and others don't. Calling it a lack of optimism sums it up pretty well. I'd add lack of confidence in one's self to make things happen. I think we need a better health care system, a higher minimum wage, and so forth. But you also need to make people feels it's worthwhile to try and do more things for themselves, and to help them see the opportunities that ARE there for them. I'm not old enough to remember FDR (President Franklin Roosevelt) but from what I know, his greatness during the Depression was to give people back some optimism and a can-do attitude. It was probably even more important than his government programs. I haven't seen that kind of inspiration for a long, long time.

    From another Democrat. Smile

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I agree about the state of mind. I grew up in a poor area. Most people couldn't see any reason to go on to college because "it wouldn't do any good anyway". These were people who couldn't see ever moving from the area and a college degree truly doesn't make any difference in an area where the main employers are the Army Ammunition Plant, fast food, and Walmart.

    I was once one of them. I couldn't see leaving "god's country". But I enjoyed learning so I wanted to go to college. In college I met my dh and he has a bit of wanderlust. We've moved a lot and we've done better than I ever expected (and still not as well as we could do because we are so idealistic).

    I think for so many people we just have to get to them while they're young. The current state of our schools with "no child left behind" doesn't do it. Teachers have to teach to the test so much they don't have time to explore the areas their kids show interest. They don't have time to go more in depth on things that will not be on the test. The kids are taught that their test scores are more important than anything else. Art classes have been dropped, music classes have been dropped, in some schools, recess has been cut.

    We need more people to volunteer for "Big Brothers/Big Sisters", we need more Boys and Girls' clubs in depressed areas. More YMCAs with enough money to provide scholarships to every child in the area (not that they will all need it, but the money should be there just in case).

    Once a child has become a teenager, it will be very hard to convince them. For many, it will take falling in love with someone more optimistic.

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