January 22, 2015

Everyone Should Experience Poverty


First of all, I want to make this clear: I am not trying to justify being poor nor am I trying to say that poor people should be happy where they are because there are benefits of poverty. I'm saying that the world would be better if people could walk in the shoes of someone who does not have. I truly hope you read my words for what they are.

When I was young (up until I was 8 years old) my parents weren't rich at all. I would even say that we were in poverty. When people think of poverty they most likely think of the show Good Times, where there's hardly enough food to eat, insufficient public transportation, government subsidized housing, slum lords, living in a violent and drug riddled community, and not being adequately employed. While in some cases that's true, it differs for everyone. My dad worked at a factory and had that job for several years, we rented a home, and always had two vehicles. The neighborhood we lived in wasn't bad at the time, but it was full of young families trying to stay afloat. In my opinion, being in poverty doesn't necessarily mean you're starving and can't make ends meet, but it means by some average cost of living standard you aren't making enough money to sufficiently take care of your family. Think of poverty in a worldview, our idea of poverty is probably considered upper class for many in third world countries who don't even have adequate shelter or clean water to drink. For much of my childhood, we were probably below the poverty line. I think people believe that once you're below the poverty line, your life is just miserable, but don't cry for me Argentina, it was anything but miserable.

Growing up, I had the best childhood. Even though we may have been technically in poverty, we weren't unhappy and never wanted for anything. When funds are tight you have to find ways to adjust. You have to find ways to give your family the comfortable middle class life even on a lower class salary.  My mom wanted us to be healthy, happy kids who were well provided for. My mom was an extreme couponer way before it became popular, she had a coupon for everything. I remember every Sunday watching her clip coupons, and storing them in a worn out, wrinkled zip-loc that she kept in her purse. My mom was a stay at home mom, which gave her lots of time to figure out ways to cut corners. Learning how to cut corners takes creativity and intelligence, it's truly not as easy as you'd think. It takes time and proper planning, you have to think about it, which is why it's a constant reminder. When you have money, you don't have to really think about anything, you just go out and pay for it or do it. Some of my fondest moments with my family involved free stuff. My parents would bring us to the park or to the lakes to feed the ducks. Every year my mom bought us kites to fly and we'd spend hours at the park trying to make them fly. Even if they never quite got off the ground, we had fun. Some weekends, instead of going to Chuck E. Cheese's or Celebration Station, we'd go to McDonald's Playland, which was free and had much of the same amusements (ball pit, anyone?). We would play board games, card games and do jigsaw puzzles. We went to parades downtown, and even aimless drives to enjoy the scenery and to spend time together.

That's why I believe everyone should experience some aspects of poverty. First of all, you learn the value of a dollar, better than any rich person could. Growing up I saw my mom cut corners, whether it was couponing, cheap entertainment, and even working out bills, she taught me lots of things that I notice some of my friends don't know. Honestly, you never know what's going to happen in life, now you may be comfortable, but what about the future? If some people were all of a sudden in poverty, they wouldn't know what to do. Even when we were in poverty, I never saw my parents depressed or sad. That's not to say that they weren't sad, but I never saw it. They didn't cry about it nor did they look for handouts, they dealt with it the best that they could and kept pushing. Being in poverty gives you a ledge over others who have never been without, who have never experienced not having the money for the light bill, being late on car payments, etc. Another thing poverty taught me is that there is always another way. Some people are so stuck on doing things one way and once they're faced with having to do it differently, they freak out or shut down.

Have you ever heard of the term street sense? Street sense is not knowing how to be a gangster (*eyeroll*), it's about knowing how to survive with what you're given. People in poverty usually have lots of street sense and common sense because they have had to learn how to survive. Sitting around and depressed is not an option for people in poverty. It takes a lot of brain power and logic to be in poverty, much more so than being rich. Which is why a lot of rich people are smart when it comes to being formally educated but they lack the street sense and common sense that's needed to navigate the world. All in all, being in poverty should be something to put on a resume. Seriously! With being in poverty comes a lot of useful life skills, that people who have not been in poverty don't understand. When you have street sense, you're less likely to be fooled because you're logical and practical and all that comes with the territory of being in poverty.

It doesn't take a Ph.D to be smart, people spend thousands of dollars on a formal education when honestly the best education comes from being impoverished. People spend hours upon hours studying poverty, when there are people in the world who live it everyday!

I hear a lot of parents say that they want to give their children a better life than what they had. Often times they shower their kids with gifts, toys, clothes, because they (the parents) want to see them with the best of the best. Of course I'm not saying poverty is a walk in the park, it's hard, but I'm sure if some of those parents think back to it, the things that they gained while poor are irreplaceable. They knew how hard it was to come by a dollar and how hard it is to stretch a dollar. I think it's important for kids to not only understand what the word 'poverty' means but experience it to some extent. Lots of young people today have a major sense of entitlement, and I think it stems from parents spoiling them to "make their lives better". There were times when my parents told me no, and I had to accept it, but many people aren't used to hearing no...People in poverty face rejection everyday.

In conclusion, my point is to say that not having valuables is probably the most valuable thing one can experience. Poverty is stressful, it's hard, it is depressing and it's not something anyone would want to go through, but in the process you learn so much about life and living, and knowledge is something that's powerful and can never be taken away. In 1999, my parents were able to purchase their own home and we moved to a completely different part of the city. At this point, I would consider us to be middle-class, but my mom still held on to the things she did when were in poverty and we never forgot our humble beginnings.

Poverty is an experience that has a silver lining, and I think it's something everyone can benefit from. People who have had money their entire lives often are not as empathetic as someone who has had to work hard to escape poverty, because they have one way of thinking, while a person had been in poverty has been trained to think of many different options and scenarios. Lastly, not all people who are in poverty gain these abilities, but a lot of them do. I'm not saying that people in poverty are superior, but they are more logical and realistic, which is what this upcoming generation needs more than anything.

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