‘Awareness’ of poverty is just a fashion statement

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.

[Photo courtesy World News on MSNBC.]
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29 Comments on “‘Awareness’ of poverty is just a fashion statement”

  1. you’ve been quite prolific these days. 🙂 well done! another great piece.

    about the site in general:
    great articles this week about personal responsibility. 😀 when you talk about change, (societal, cultural, personal) it’s really all on us. heavy.

    …i need to get back to work now lest i get distracted again. hahaha!

  2. Amen and amen.

    I have always been irritated at the “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer” mantra. It implies that the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor, and hence they should “give back”.

    I call bullshit.

    The rich getting richer is never a problem. The rich simply have the knowhow and the means — and some of them don’t remain there longer than one generation because they don’t manage their money properly, in as much as some talented people born poor have the skill to jump out of poverty.

    The poor getting poorer is a consequence of people not having the means of understanding how economics deals a blow to a person’s way of living. It’s not a conspiracy by one group of people to keep them that way, although I’m sure the Catholic Church and many politicians want it that way.

    The middle class, the ignorant rich, and the poor are all just as vulnerable to these economic forces as the next guy. No amount of charity without the context of financial intelligence will get a person out of poverty.

  3. BenignO: But Binky has now asked for several billions to add to the Conditional Cash-Transfer (CCT) Program for “the less fortunate,” which the DSWD claims is “a tool for empowering the poor and not a dole out.”
    http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=TopStory&title=Hike-in-CCT-funding-proposed-by-DSWD&id=53350

    And here is Pantawid Pamilya Financials:
    http://pantawid.dswd.gov.ph/index.php/pantawid-pamilya-financials

  4. One problem is that media has been glamorizing the poor and demonizing the rich – to the point that even “can-afford” people are condemned as evil rich. It causes people to make being poor itself a fashion statement. They may just become poor just to look good… even if being rich or can-afford is actually better.

  5. “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer” has always been used as an agitation-propaganda line to promote communism against a free democracy. The yellow media moguls had better be careful in falling into the communist trap.

    In trying to demonize the rich they fail to realize that they are also demonizing themselves. Media moguls may soon be perceived as evil rich exploiting the poor to increase ratings. There are many Filipinos who accumulated wealth by way of industry, hard work, innovation and sheer genius. They should not be labelled by irresponsible media as getting richer nor tagged as evil rich.

    Why is the poor becoming poorer? Because they are used by politicians, the media and other ruthless sectors. This is also in furtherance of political expediency and opportunism. False slogans and promises are aimed at the used masses and conveniently forgotten after elected to public office. The corrupt image of politicians is true in many instances. Dole outs standing alone will never bring relief to their misery.

    Straightforward policy development and strategies like livelihood SME’s is the beginning of real change. Teach a man how to fish… as the saying goes. What we need to do is elect into public office real statesmen and stateswomen and not traditional corrupt politicians who use the poor against the rich. Poverty is a political business undertaking in this country. Poverty is the bread and butter of our corrupt political opportunists.

    1. If only the sovereign people will wise up to the continuing political racket of corrupt political opportunists. The mass should awaken to shake off the shackles of ignorance and gullible perception. The political carnivals and circuses of politician wannabes dancing or singing in public should be a wake up call.

      Political entertainment and hand outs should not be taken by them as a sign of candidate competence, brilliance or virtue. The solution is apparent. Choose and elect the best, the brightest and the virtuous.

      Election platforms and debates should be a serious undertaking. Entertainment and handouts mesmerize the target personalities. These should be banned as they serve no purpose but to entertain and deceive the people. Platforms should be examined critically and judged by the people. We, the people should change our perceptions and look towards the welfare of future generations. Genuine change of our country’s politics only comes with a collective will. There is no alternative. We will be doomed by our own inaction or our political circus mentality. Choose well in the coming elections.

  6. That slogan “Giving back their share” is based on a fallacy: that the rich are stealing from the poor just by being rich. It may be a moot point for some, but I doubt being rich, or being more financially advantaged, like having a bigger salary than another person, or having more property than others, is actually “stealing.” For one thing, you have to prove that what they’re doing is actually “stealing.”

  7. “…Christianic upbringing on a diet of doctrine and dogma that demonises the wealthy” I’ve read the Bible, through and through, and I didn’t find that teaching…

      1. This is what I don’t get with Filipinos. They like to call themselves the only Catholic/Christian nation in Asia, but when it comes to understanding what the Bible says, it’s like the book is totally alien to them, some even wince in disgust when you quote from the Bible to try to reason with them their misunderstanding of the faith saying, “ito na ang naka-ugalian, ito na ang tradisyon”. Maybe they haven’t come across Acts 17:11, that’s why they are easily fooled. I am no Bible-scholar, but as a follower of the Christian faith, I am also task to differentiate what is truth and what is false, because in the end it is still me who will answer to God for my reasons and not my pastor or anybody.

  8. I call bullshit too.

    The poor can go starve. I worked my way out of the poor hole on my own merit. I struck deals to make it easier for me to pay, but I never asked for a freebie. No robe-wearing cleric can ever pontificate on my own haul of wealth when the CBCP won’t even pay property tax.

    I’m selfish because I found that the CBCP is just as deviously selfish to the poor by keeping them in a perpetual state of “kamangmangan.”

    And no amout of my own money will ever make any better the bum who chooses to rely on charity to keep alive.

    1. When Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” it didn’t mean, “make sure you keep the poor, poor, so you will always have them around you.” Sadly, the latter seems to be what some people, even in the clergy, think.

      1. I’m good with supporting my own gene pool, but if I had to give anything away because the CBCP said so, then my umbrage goes up. they can’t control their own priests, then they sure as shit shouldn’t be calling me out. I do charity on my own terms.

  9. We will always have wealthy and poor people in our country…It is because, some of us are better, than the others…some are well educated…some are well entrenched in power. Some are hell bent in making themselves rich, in private enterprises or in public offices. The thin Red Line here is between: Greed and Altruism. If people become too greedy, to deprive others the opportunity, to provide for themselves for their love ones…this is evil already. Like the Aquinos and the Cojuangcos, owning almost all the Province of Tarlac, getting in power, to protect the land they swindled…

  10. I call bullshit three!

    I will never be able to appreciate that vilification that Pinoys do of people who save or are more financially well-off than they are. If you think about it, it really doesn’t matter whether the root of it is either church teachings demonizing the wealthy, or the inherent Pinoy green-eyed monster called “inggit”. It’s there all the same.

    I’ve heard the phrase “share your blessings” all too often, and it’s become a guilt trip expression used by people who are too lazy to spend their own money and who think they are entitled to a free lunch by others. When asked the simple question of “don’t you have your own money?”, those moochers quickly reply, “ok lang yan, mas madami ka namang pera samin eh.” That makes me want to stuff bills in their mouths.

    Because such a vilification of people who have money exists, the “poor” also use it as an excuse to not work; they don’t want to become one of those “vilified” people. And Pinoys inherently gravitate towards mediocrity too.

    1. Share your blessings? These smoochers sure know how to quote biblically from their standpoint, but not from the Bible. Acts 20:34-35 says to help the weak, and the weak doesn’t mean those bodies still capable of work. Mabuti pa yung pulubing putol ang dalawang paa at isang kamay, araw-araw, naglilibot sa buong Kamaynilaan para mamalimos, despite of disabilities, at least hindi pabigat o palamunin lamang, e yung mga lasenggero at sugalero, e kahit nga sa kabilang baranggay, hindi makaikot kasi napako na sa upuan.

      1. Give ’em 2 Thessalonians 3:10 –
        For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

        1. Just the verse I was looking for. It was much more clearer in the vernacular, “Sapagka’t noon pa mang kami ay kasama ninyo, ay aming iniutos ito sa inyo, Kung ang sinoman ay ayaw gumawa, ay huwag din namang kumain.Sapagka’t aming nababalitaan ang ilan sa inyo na nagsisilakad ng walang kaayusan, na hindi man lamang nagsisigawa, kundi mga mapakialam sa mga bagay ng iba.” I didn’t even know nor hear this verse when I was still a Catholic.

      2. Right. There are different kinds of poor people: there are parasitic ones and there are those who strive hard in unfavorable conditions. It is those who want to help themselves that need the help of those who have “blessings to share”.

  11. May I point out the annual “gladiatorial” games of the Black Nazarene as an example of fanaticism and the mass combined. People shove, scratch, press, pull, punch, full fight and get run over by the wheeled figure transport. Some see it as a deadly game of king of the mountain. Sad to say that the Spanish occupation brought not only ignorance to suppress the mass from rebellion but also fanaticism. Do priests or the hierarchy endorse politicians of shady and dubious character? Do political contributions to the church unduly influence it to side with or support a politician regardless of right or wrong? Such is the sad state of affairs in this blemished pearl of the orient.

    1. The bottom line is the state of poverty and the poor mass are exploited and used. Expediency and opportunism rules for selfish gain at the expense of those who by honest hard work have accumulated more in life. Is ruthless divide and conquer not far away? Poverty is truly a multifaceted, literally used word.

  12. I don’t see nothing wrong in the rich giving back to society. Rich people voluntarily help and share with the poor and unfortunate. And in return they are recognized on such kind of endeavor and awarded with praise and acknowledgement by society.

    To alleged then 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.” is a bit way off.

    You pester the rich to give, you either land in jail or end six-feet deep somewhere. You don’t just do that to the movers and shakers of our society.

    If the intention is to show class war in society, I don’t think sharing and charity work is a better example.

    1. Beyond religion and economics, sharing is a laudable human trait. Philanthropists, yes, they give and get back in return–a millionfold! It’s how and where you give that matters.

  13. I have always admired GRP for its critical analysis of the Philippine socio-politico-cultural situation, and I have even recommended it to friends. But I notice an often one-sided Catholic/Church bashing that crops up here and there for no other reason than personal gripes. Self-criticism is a must for all, institutions and individuals alike. Everyone should be able, when there is just reason, to say mea culpa and take responsibility for one’s mistakes. Let us not foul up an otherwise excellent scrutiny of a Philippine condition by blanket statements on the culpability of the Church or the Christian heritage without properly and objectively documenting it. One day someone will want to do a serious comparative study of all cultures influenced by the Catholic and/or Christian tradition and bring out all the havoc that the religion may or may not have wrought on collective consciousness and cultural practice. Then would be the time to make well-reasoned conclusions.

    1. yes of course but this is because organized religion deserves to be bashed. all day every day. because it promotes faith, which is belief in unverifiable claims 🙂 it makes us stupid therefore

  14. Nice one.
    Lest some people get confused, there is a difference between the ideal rich and the oligarch.
    The ideal rich works hard using his talents, means, and skills to get ahead. He hires help to improve his services, and pays his proper dues.
    The Oligarch uses his means to connive with fellow oligarchs to get ahead at the expense of lower beings, often trying to circumvent his dues.

  15. Nothing wrong with that outlook. I earned it, I keep it. A practical approach. Only if you are not Christian. The New Testament is littered with Jesus’ teachings of taking care of the least of my brethren, an outlooked reinforced by Pope Francis’ thrust. Take note it is care, not give money. Care is a whole different attitude from philantrophy, but that is for another day. Christ offers us a choice, follow Him and his teachings or not. Noone puts a gun to our heads to become Christians.

    Christ also said not to judge, let us discuss contrarian views but not persecute. Christ converted and evangelized with love. Pope Francis is doing the same. They are leading by example.

    If the author does not believe in Christ’s teachings let us respect that.

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