I frequently find myself of two minds when faced with those who are suffering from poverty and lack of education, and these depend heavily on my mood and state of mind. If I’m in a poor or aggressive mood I tend to quietly condescend, taking notes of the various indicators of class and filling in the blanks of the person’s life.
Hasn’t read a book since grade school, check. Loves team sports, check. Loves Jesus, check. Groups and dislikes ethnic groups other than his/her own, check. Pretty standard, really.
Then I imagine how much suffering this person commonly endures. Low pay, low station in work, He doesn’t smile. He works three jobs for crap pay to barely afford rent and beer and cable. I wonder why it is that this person exists, and why it is that people think it’s normal and ok for him to create offspring with impunity. To me, he’s in pain and he’s bringing more of that pain into the world.
Lately I’ve been catching myself when thinking such things, and it’s rather unpleasant. Don’t I reject absolute free will? Doesn’t my belief system dictate that this person doesn’t have an option? Yes. Well, then what kind of idiot accepts this as truth and then still gets upset by watching dominoes fall? My kind, evidently.
I then ease myself into a much more healthy, empathic state of mind–one in which my ideas turn to offering help of some sort.
But on re-evaluation, I feel it’s ok to notice the insidious nature of poverty and ignorance. And it’s ok to observe and analyze the ways these things manifest in individuals and groups. But it’s only ok if the purpose is to learn about a problem and trying to fix it. It’s not ok to just stare and turn up one’s nose–or scowl, in my case.
So this is how I go through life looking at failures to live the good life of love guided by knowledge. I move unpredictably between the worlds of elitism and sympathy. I simultaneously want to identify, call out, and address these manifestations of ignorance and suffering, but I feel bad about even calling attention to it. So I’m left to act like a good San Francisco liberal and pretend the suffering taking place 20 miles away isn’t all that bad.
The places on the news are bad, but it’s ok for countless poor and ignorant people five minutes from me to barely speak the national language, toil their lives away doing physical work for minimum wage, waste most of their money on alcohol and lottery, and pine for a large family. That’s ok, right? Let’s not talk about that. No, let’s pretend those people don’t exist.
I want these people not to suffer, and I want them to stop creating more suffering. And I want people to realize that they’re here and that they’re not happy. Pregnant, working at McDonalds, with more kids at home, not speaking the language, with no education. I often feel like a criminal going through that drive through. Like I’m willfully participating in the illusion that there’s nothing wrong with that picture. It’s a fucking travesty. It’s a travesty that she lives that life, and that she’s likely creating more to live one just like it.
Seeing it makes me angry. Seeing it hurts me. I respond with disdain, but then I see how innocent and faultless this person is. She did nothing wrong and she has no options. She’s in pain because she rolled bad dice, and I’m in my nice car at the window because I got as lucky as she did unlucky.
Shame on me for being angry. Shame on me for noticing all the signs of her failure and lack of sophistication. She has those characteristics because she was unlucky, and I noticed them because I wasn’t. I don’t deserve anything good, and she doesn’t deserve anything bad.
It’s all luck. The prosperous are the fortunate; they are one and the same.
So all I have left is pity, but pity doesn’t spawn action. It spawns complacency and politically correct avoidance of problems.
I need to determine how it is that I can stay observant of the world, and notice it’s patterns of failure and suffering, while simultaneously maintaining my mentality of empathy and thankfulness.
I abhor those who fail to notice how destructive these lifestyles are, and how they propagate suffering throughout the world. But I dislike even more the guy who sees it and gets turned into a snob by the information. I have news for you, snob. You’re lucky and nothing else.
I am both of these people at different times. I’m mostly the compassionate one, but too often the haughty one, and I don’t like either. If you’re empathic and compassionate without seeing the cycle of pain this person is contributing to, then you’re part of the problem. And if you see the problem but don’t do anything but analyze the ways the person is beneath you then you’re just another delusional asshole sold on the concept of “deserving” something.
Don’t be either. Be better somehow.
[ Jun 15, 2011 ]