August 31, 2011

Top 10 Things I've Learned from the Poor . . . So Far (Day 40 - August 31, 2011)

It would be very easy for me to start belly aching about the rain, how the temperature hasn't risen today since it reached the overnight low (6C), how the day lingers on when one just wants to stay warm  . . . but I'm not going to do it!  (Well, except for that little snippet . . . :P )

Instead, I've been thinking about the various things I've learned from those in poverty situations over the last dozen years through my experience with CAUSE Canada, my writings and research, and the last 40 days living in a tent.

Here are the . . .

(Drum roll please . . .)


10.    We can, and should, appreciate what we have . . . whether that be a lot or a little.   Strangely, I find those in poverty are better at this than those with a lot of stuff.

9.    What true generosity looks like.  Giving a large amount when that amount is only a small portion of what you have is not as generous as giving everything that you have, even if "everything" is not very much.  I was invited to a feast in West Africa where I later found out that our hosts emptied their cupboards to feed us, and they were absolutely joyous in doing so!  (For sure we reciprocated their generosity, but they did so with no expectation of such . . . just faith that their needs would be met the next day.)

8.   Food is first and foremost fuel for our bodies.  While many of us like to have "fun" with food, we must always remember that doing so is an incredible blessing of abundance.

7.   It doesn't take much to make a world of difference in the life of someone who has very little.  I've seen, and experienced, how much a warm blanket improves one's standard of living.  I've seen women who literally have 4 (or more) additional working hours in their day because a single pipe is installed to carry water to the front of their home.  I've seen, and felt, the difference that a warm smile and big hug can make to someone.  And, I could go on and on . . .

6.   We live in a world of grey . . . not black and white.   There are as many different stories and reasons as to why someone finds themselves in lack as there are people in lack . . . and it is NEVER one-sided where the person in poverty is entirely in the wrong (and, in fact, wrong-doing on their part is often not even a factor).  We can't pigeon-hole people . . . every person is unique and a child of God.

5.   The importance of faith, especially for those with little resources.  I've found that faith is often stronger amongst those who are in poverty as faith may be the only thing they have left.  It's so much easier for those with an abundance of resources to look to themselves as the alpha and omega of their lives, from which it is not a long journey to losing some of the precious guidance that faith provides.

4.   The poor are just like the non-poor on the inside . . . we are the same, we are one.  There are smart poor people, and not-so-smart poor people . . . there are funny poor people, and not-so-funny poor people . . . there are shy poor people, and not-so-shy poor people . . . poor people have problems and joys, too . . . poor people want their kids to be healthy and happy, too . . . etc.

3.   Community and relationships are much more important in places where the standard of living is low.   This may be too much of a generalization, but it has been my experience so far.  People in poorer countries in which I have travelled seem to want to deal with people first and business second, whereas that is often the opposite in industrialized countries.  A friend of mine in the relief and development community adopted this as a guiding principle for his organization . . ."People are more important than projects."

2.   Hard work alone does not guarantee success.  Some of the hardest working people I have ever met are poor.  It is important for the non-impoverished to recognize that in addition to hard work, our success is also attributable to other factors.  Perhaps some luck?  Being in a place with opportunities?  Being healthy in body, mind, and spirit?  Getting a helping hand when needed?  Recognizing this allows us to take the easy step of blessing the lives of others out of a sense of our own blessings.

And the number one thing I have learned from the poor (. . . so far) . . .

1.   We have lots to learn from those in poverty.   It was upon learning this, which wasn't hard . . . all I had to do is listen and observe . . .  that I was able to learn all of the above and so much more.  It's plain wrong, and a trap, to think that simply because someone comes from a place of resource abundance that they know more than those who may need some help.

So . . . are there some things that you have learned from those in poverty that you would like to share?  I would love to hear from you by leaving a comment below.

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

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  1. if only every organization realized "people are more important than projects" love that!
    i have to thank you for sharing this journey with all of us via this blog. it has been a tremendous blessing to read the many emotions, struggles and interesting things that have come up on ur journey so far. First has made me way more aware of those less lucky in life all around me & secondly it has renewed my passion for people...and i am happy to say i have tried to touch someones life(less fortunate) with something little each day lately. and like u doesnt take much to make a world of difference in someone elses life! food, money, a genuine eye contact smile with a cheery hello, stopping to check on someone....we all can do these things. as the fall comes...i hope to see less poverty due to awareness like what u have done! because poverty is you or me...its our brothers and is our job to care for one another as we would like to be treated. i am officially long winded....ooops....

  2. A word from That Poverty Guy's mother...again.
    I was in Canmore for a couple of days and I am in awe (more than ever) of what my son is doing. When I heard the bitterness in some of the mail he talked about in the last blog, and how shook up he was by them, it broke my heart. I wish that those sad little people could walk in Sean's shoes for even a day. I was in town to rehearse my play "Dirty Laundry" and even though Sean had to do his part as my producer he never stepped out of his role. He didn't shower or shave and we walked everywhere and believe me that was a lot and it didn't matter the weather...we walked. I bought Sean a lunch and when we were amongst others, he was different in a slight way...his eyes were down more often and I could tell that he felt "less than". At one point he apologized if I could smell his feet and said that that was a very sensitive topic for him. Yes, Sean came inside to eat and did dishes a couple of times to "pay" for his meals but the minute he was done he was outside into his tent or outside area immediately. At every meal, Sean always gives fervent gratitude to God for the food and family. The weather jumped from 30 degrees C and dry on Monday, to 11 degrees C with pelting rain on Tuesday while I was there and he didn't complain, and he just stuck his course. When I left on Wed morning (6 AM)it was so very cold and rainy and all I could think of was him in his tent freezing. He said in some communication that the days go very slowly when you are just trying to keep warm...fact not self-pity. But from my point of view...OUCH! I hate what Sean is putting himself through, BUT I keep thinking about the mothers who have grownup children on the street or living with little heat and how they must worry. I have never thought about street people being family people and so I have learned a big lesson in that department. I cannot imagine the number of mothers who wake up every day and look at the weather and wonder if their kid is safe and warm. I know Sean is doing a project but the physical discomforts, the mental battles he goes through every day, and the abuse he is taking from people who just don't "get it", make it very real. I have gained such respect for the people he is trying to teach us about. To all the moms out there, I hope you will give your kids...even if they are 41,42 or 48 (as my kids are)...a big hug and thank God that they are safe and warm. I know God is "in" on this with Sean so I have to have faith that he and all those other less fortunate people will make it through ok. I would put out the challenge to have any of those who have been rude and hurtful to my son to spend one day and one night in his shoes and smelly socks. I know they couldn't do it. Give a thought today about the "moms"! At least I have an address to send some recycled warm socks to keep his feet warm at night...for that I am grateful.

    That's something we can all do...donate socks and mitts and blankets to your nearest shelter.

    And "interior girl" rock!

  3. One thing I have learned from talking to our guests at Inn From the Cold is how like "us" the homeless are. So many have just hit a patch of bad luck, and once you are homeless it is hard to get out.. renting requires a damage deposit, references from your last land lord, etc. Many landlords don't want to rent to someone that has been living on the streets. As I watched a homeless mom care for her young son, who looked enough like mine for the boys to be mistaken as brothers, my heart ached.

  4. Thanks for the comments to all of you. You all rock!

    Too often people think of the bad example of poverty (person cheating the system, etc), perhaps because they're glaring and visible, and overlook all of the examples of regular people that just need a little help. They are like "us" . . . they are somebody's son or daughter . . . we are one.