Poverty creates an absence of hope. It breeds instability, insecurity and uncertainty. Poverty does not know of a future. Poverty is the antithesis of “entitlement”. It means never feeling entitled to anything. It means relying on others to tell you what you are allowed to hope for and the expectation that your dreams are far beyond your reach.
Living in poverty means that all solutions have become invisible.
This is what poverty means to me.
I grew up in extreme poverty. There were no luxuries. We didn’t have food most of the time.
Lately there have been a lot of stories shared about families living in poverty and I can’t help but take a minute to say a few words about it.
I remember having simple dreams, like having my own bed, my own room, my own toys and clothes. Those things seemed like they were only attainable by the rich. When I was a kid, that meant middle-class. I still kind of see it that way.
We have an enormous amount of wealth in the U.S. So much so that we can afford to buy sweaters for our dogs, to stock up on all the brand name foods we like and even have a separate bedroom for every person in our household.
That’s a lot of privilege. Yet, many Americans have come to expect that lifestyle. It’s not seen as privilege here. They feel entitled to it. This isn’t part of the “American dream”…it’s just the basics of what Americans can claim for themselves.
But the reality is that many Americans don’t live this way…and sadly, they don’t feel they are entitled to it in the least. They have come to the realization that this is the way their life will play out. This is all that is available to them. It’s all their taught to believe they deserve.
Hopelessness is not knowing that the means are within your reach.
Maybe they’re lucky in some ways. Things aren’t as bad as they could be. But when you’re a kid…it doesn’t always feel that way. You get used to going without. You get used to people telling you what you’re worth. And for a long time, you truly believe what they say. It’s not until you’re grown and you escape that life that you see there are possibilities available to you. Some of them never escape. They don’t break beyond the walls and see that another reality exists.
That leads me to this video, which I had to share because it really touched me on a personal level. I grew up a lot like this kid. He’s not trying to pull at your heart strings. He’s just being real. This is the world he lives in.
The video is less than four minutes long and it’s worth watching. Take a look.
The saddest part of this short film for me was when the little boy, Mark, says this:
“I would like to have my own room, instead of like, be one of those kids that knows what it feels like. They have their own house, they have their own bedroom, they have their own bathroom, they have their own tv, they have everything. They have everything that a kid could dream for. I would like, kinda be, I wanna be like that, maybe.”
What kills me is the last bit of his statement. This is what he hopes for. His own house. His own room. A tv. But he only “kinda”, “maybe” thinks that can happen for him.
I know what that feels like and it breaks my heart.
I grew up thinking that those simple things were so impossible. Too many of our kids grow up thinking that these basic desires are unreachable…unattainable. That kills me. It just shouldn’t be. It absolutely doesn’t have to be.
I’ve done my best to make sure that my daughter never knows this life. I want her to reject the self-limiting beliefs that go hand-in-hand with poverty. I want her to live far beyond hopelessness and despair. I want her to know that the world is open to her interpretation…and that she truly can be anything. That no one’s expectations determine how far she can go.
I live in disbelief of the economic system and how we treat our poor. My stomach churns when I think of how little action we take in our daily lives and in our politics.
I live in utter shock that we point the finger at poor families and claim “entitlement” as a reason for the joblessness and economic insecurity of our poor. We call them “lazy”. We whine about “welfare”. We diagnose our poor with a never-ending list of “problems”. Yet, we never once stop to think that POVERTY is the problem. That poverty damages our children and destroys our economy.
How could we be so backward to perceive the poor as “entitled”. How? When kids like Mark don’t even have the ability to believe they deserve a home of their own?
I think a reality check is in order, America. I hope you agree.