Thursday, March 24, 2011

Groundhog Day

Someone close to me asked, recently, why I don't acknowledge the reality of the fact that I am poor. It made my heart hurt. Not because it finally sunk in that I am totally flat broke. That reality is old news. What hurt my spirit was the realization that this person who I loved dearly was so defined by poverty that they had trouble seeing me define myself in any other terms. Make no mistake. I've got very little money right now. But the key phrase there is right now. I chose this state of temporary financial hardship in order to build a future for my children that I could not otherwise have built. I have never, nor will I ever define myself as truly poor. Doing so would not only be an insult to the people for whom poverty is not a choice, but it would be an insult to my father who built the financial ground upon which I stand, my mother who maintains it, and myself in whom the empire will most certainly grow.

There is a concept in economics, called the cycle of poverty. Its the idea that certain behaviors and circumstances, once begun, act as a self sustaining mechanism for poverty. It goes like this. A family is poor. They lack the resources to build for tomorrow. Therefore they work only to survive today. Tomorrow comes, and they are, once again poor. Because today is so tough, they lack the luxury of worrying about tomorrow. In doing so, though, they ensure that tomorrow looks exactly like today. Kinda like that movie Groundhog Day. For some, perhaps, there is little choice to this cycle. For many, though, this cycle is more mental than it is economic.

In today's America, we have many folks living out their lives on the line between poverty and comfort. They live pay check to pay check. They make just enough money to live on. If you were to ask them, they'd say they have no idea where their money goes. They use phrases like "maintaining" and "getting by" to describe their very existence. Life, for them, is consumed by the daily struggle to survive financially. Mind you, they have nice enough cars. They have new clothes. They have plasma TVs. But they probably don't own the home they live in and they can't pay their gas bill. When crisis hits, (and by crisis I mean the car dies, the plasma TV breaks, or they spend more money than they meant to at the casino), they look to find some temporary fix. Maybe its the government. Maybe its a community program for hardship assistance. Maybe its the quick cash loan joint on the corner. But what happens is that they fix today's problem today. Tomorrow is not yet an issue in their minds. And so, everyday looks like the day before it. The idea that one could change that fact is foreign to them. Unheard of. Silly even.

For fear of sounding like a republican, I will end my rant there. I can just hear my republican pal with his arguments about why all government programs to help the poor are a waste of money. I certainly don't agree. I have taken many a hand out and hope to go on to create many more for folks that come after me. In my quest to become a doctor, I could not have eaten without assistance. But there's the key. Quest. The quest to make tomorrow better than today is what makes all the difference.

I say all that only to say this. Be careful how you define yourself. The definition you give yourself tends to stick.

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