August 4, 2011

I Think Therefore I Am (Day 13 - August 4, 2011)

Janet and I have a couple of good friends who just became Canadian citizens today.  They are really wonderful people who moved here from Britain to be closer to their children and grandchildren.  The citizenship ceremony was held out by Lake Minnewanka with the beautiful Canadian Rockies and pristine waters as the backdrop.  While I couldn't make it to the ceremony, I understand that it was a truly memorable event.

So why am I telling you about this since I wasn't even there??  Thanks for asking!  This past Sunday after church, our friends invited us over to their house for some food and refreshments following the ceremony today in order to celebrate with them.  We accepted enthusiastically since offered hospitality is perfectly welcome during this stage of That Poverty Project. Honestly, what homeless person would turn down free food and refreshments?  So, as you would expect, ever since waking this morning, with the prospect of getting together with friends, indulging in special food, and having a glass of wine I have been feeling . . . fear and worry.  Yes, I know . . . it's weird, but true.

So now you're asking WHY in the name of all that is good and wholesome would I be feeling fear and worry at the prospect of eating and drinking in celebration with good friends????  (Boy, you are really asking good questions today.)  It's because I was feeling like I wouldn't fit in with my friends.  In my mind, I conjured up everyone wearing nice summerwear, fresh and clean . . . and I would be the misfit who shows up a little wrinkled, grizzled and sweaty.  The truth is that people have said that I'm not smelling bad nor looking bad . . . but my mind was telling me differently.  Just imagine the trepidation I would have been feeling if it were a gathering of strangers!

Where does that fear and worry come from?  Is it just me or is this something that others might experience as well?  (It's now my turn to ask the good questions . . .)  I would venture to say that it is wider spread than simply little ol' me.  In fact, I think it relates to the unspoken yett always present stigma we have in our society with respect to poverty.  People don't like dirty or ratty appearances.   And . . . this is my main insight today . . . that stigma doesn't just flow from the "haves" against the "have-nots", but the "have-nots" actually apply it to themselves, too.  Yes, those who are in poverty are actually battling to be accepted by themselves as much, if not more, than they are by others.

The stigma against being poor is so great, that it actually hinders people who are poor from taking opportunities that may be available to them because they think negatively of themselves.  And, as was relayed to me from a worker at The Mustard Seed in Calgary, the stigma against poverty which the poor apply to themselves is one of the key barriers to getting the help available to them.  Before one can access welfare or other options available, one must first acknowledge that they are in need of welfare. 

It seems crazy . . . but try it for yourself.  If you found yourself in circumstances where you had to declare bankruptcy . . . would you have more angst about losing a lot of your stuff OR about everyone knowing you went bankrupt?  Sure, no one wants to lose their stuff, but I suspect the real hit for most people is the public and personal perception they would have of themselves being bankrupt.  And so it goes for those in poverty . . . you feel lesser than others and you don't want to put yourself in a situation where that is put under the spotlight.  Face it, we're people . . . and as such we sometimes do a psychological number on each other and ourselves.
Photo by Hamish MacLean, Canmore Leader

My learning today is about what we can do to remove the stigma against the poor.  We need to look past the trappings and the judgments we make based upon appearance, and we need to see the person inside the ruffled clothes and dusty exterior.  That seems obvious, but it is something we all have to be vigilant about.  We need to  remind ourselves repeatedly that what matters most is what is on the inside, not what someone is wearing or how much money is in their pocket.  And, most importantly, we must remember that regardless of what anyone may think, every one of us is precious and lovable.

Hey!! I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.   

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  1. I totally agree...the comparison i am going to use is one i personally experience everyday. having a physical handicapp...i find that i assume people "see me" in a certain way (negative, pathetic, etc...)
    It wasnt until a friend pointed out to me that others really don't see my illness first...they DO see me and "who" i am....that i should go easier on myself...and give others a chance to surprise me.
    I see his point...i think i had a preconceived notion that i am junk cause i dont walk perfect...or move smoothly like others! I see myself as "different" i ASSUME others must as well.
    Likewise, i think you are spot on when u say that perhaps the poorer folks we see. ..May indeed not see themselves as "valuable enough" to society to matter (ie warrant hel). And God knows that just isnt true! least that is not the society i want to live in....i want them to feel ok to accept help and/or ask for help...because we all need to be kind to one another....and validated...we are human!

  2. I really appreciate your sharing how the same things have occurred for you from the perspective of a physical handicap. It occurs to me that the way to overcome the stigma, especially as one may apply it to ones self, is to do as your friend did for you. He was a true friend, and took the steps to help you see yourself in a more positive light. In other words, we have to love the stigma out of existence!