Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty (Blog Action Day 2008)

"Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor's children starving?" -Charlton Heston, "Planet of the Apes"

I'm a chubby American with plenty of clean water. I have a car, a television, a computer, and an internet connection. I have a guitar and thousands of books. I've acted in films, flown in planes, owned a suit, gone to concerts, and eaten in restaurants. All this is the lifestyle of someone who lives about $9,000 below my nation's poverty line.

I have never been to a place where only one vehicle is shared amongst local farmers. I've never been to a village with no doctors, no stores, no schools, and no promise of a prosperous future. My nation's definition of poverty sounds like a joke in poor taste compared to the rest of the world. The citizenry of my nation doesn't have to share, because Americans can afford just about one of everything for each person.

My mother lived on her family's farm, waking early every morning to milk cows, even on the morning she got married. My father grew up in a small house, keeping all his clothes hanging on a single nail. I never lived through the kind of poverty my parents grew up in.

Sometimes my friends give me a hard time because I don't have enough cash to go to a movie or buy comics. I don't go bowling or to spook trails. I like to bowl. I never show out for trips to the amusement park. Instead, I spend a lot of time reading used books and playing guitar. It's what I can afford, but I never feel poor. The privileges of my life are not entitlements. I'm lucky.

But I do feel disconnected.

I wonder how much perspective I've lost living in a nation four times as wealthy as any other country in the world. I want to understand the lives of people in far flung corners of the world. Nationalism and insulation from the rest of the world keeps Americans from empathizing with those we might recognize as part of a common human struggle. When we're able to stop looking at the world as divided plots bound by pride against one another, perhaps we'll realize the responsibility we all share for the quality of life on our planet. Perhaps we'll see beyond the political capital gained by philanthropy and recognize the necessity of humanitarianism for its own sake. I know hope and empathy are not pragmatic solutions, but maybe they are a place to begin.

For more information on Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty, visit:

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