"Awareness" of poverty is just a fashion statement

11 January 2009

It is interesting the way messages that aim to make one "aware" about the "plight" of the poor proliferate. In many countries, such awareness does not come at much of an effort as it is an in-your-face reality of daily life. But with affluence comes the insidious effects of our Christianic upbringing on a diet of doctrine and dogma that demonises the wealthy. Contrary to popularly-held notions and stereotypes, it seems it is the wealthy who have a bigger problem with poverty than those who are poor. Pity the rich as they are saddled with a pre-occupation with being "aware" of poverty and have a bigger need to be seen to be "giving back their share".

Giving back their share. But of course. That's the fashionable position to espouse.

Never mind that rich people own and run businesses that employ millions, spend money in volumes that create commerce and opportunity sustainably for the majority of poor labourers, farmers, and tradesmen, and pay huge taxes (well, maybe some of us do) in absolute terms. There remains a stigma for those of them who do not dole out nor take a bit of time to serve at the proverbial soup kitchen every now and then. Yet Bill Gates, for one, created an empire that enriched millions and created an entire industry that provided an alternative for the X and Y Generations of the Third World to a life of rural impoverishment. This he achieved at a time in his life when his goal was less-than-noble -- power and conquest. That he changed so many lives as he sought to fulfill his aspirations was a fortunate but mere by-product.

And so it is that for all who pursue their personal aspirations -- whether it be those who choose a vocation to serve the "less fortunate" or those who seek financial wealth -- there is always value added to society as an outcome. An aspiration to serve is a personal aspiration as much as seeking financial wealth is. The active concept here is personal. Nobody should presume to be an authority on what a worthwhile life led is, much less should be. This brings us to the question of how the label "worthy cause" seems to have been hijacked by the self-described "heroes" of our society and the "not-for-profit" undertakings they participate in. When one grows up on a diet of judgment directed at the "more fortunate" and guilt over being "blessed" with more, there is an inclination to be unappreciative of what one already contributes to society simply by doing things properly -- do your job, raise your kids, pay your taxes, and generally do things properly. Aren't these worthy of the label "worthy cause" as well?

When one leads a life of quiet achievement grounded on doing things properly, one is entitled to be free from the scrutiny and admonitions to be a bit more "aware" of the "less fortunate" coming from those who fancy themselves as some sort of "hero" of the poor and oppressed. There is absolute merit in calling for a change in our self-righteous penchant for calling one another to heroic and extraordinary deeds and instead find value in the collective effect of each individual doing their ordinary jobs properly and quietly.

Funny indeed that:

We pester the elite of our society with calls for acts of heroism when the burden of extra hard work in reality falls on the shoulders of the poor masses.

When we understand that we are all ultimately personally responsible for our own fortunes, we begin to become aware of how many aspects of our culture contribute to propagating a culture of poverty and its cousin the victim mentality. We are a society imprisoned in a mindset that is grounded on the notions that we cannot influence our own destinies, that employment is owed to us by Government, and that those who have more have in some way deprived us of opportunity simply by being "more fortunate". We think that good fortune is granted to us by "God's graces" and that bad fortune is "God's will". Where does personal accountability fit in this scheme of things then?

Furthermore, we practice a primitive form of Catholicism that in a nutshell, tells us that:

We are a bunch of good-for-nothing sinners and are in such a state of in-born disgrace. We can only be redeemed by the �graces� of a deity that supposedly �loves� us but who will just as easily condemn to eternal damnation those who do not love him back. This deity has representatives on Earth that walk around in robes and organise themselves into, such entities as a �Catholic Bishops Conference� and then proceed to pontificate about how people should live and love.

With such mindsets and behavioural cues at work, we cannot prosper in the modern world. This is especially relevant when we consider the simplicity of the fundamental principle that underlies our prospectus:

Our inherent ability to honour commitments we are locked into determines our fortunes.

We are a society committed to modern democratic ideals and participation in the global economy. Yet our inherent ability to honour those commitments is reflected in a culture of mindsets, traditions, and attitudes that befit an inward-looking and backward society.

[Our contribution to the FilipinoVoices.com Writing Project]

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