Tag Archives: poor

Transacting the Humanity out of Society

Commerce. Transcations. Goods. Units. Revenue. Profit. Growth. Market. Market share. Margin. Money. Money. Stuff. Stuff. More. More. More.

More work, more money, more time, more things. So much. So-so, much.IMG_0044

I walked through LA’s Santee Alley in the fashion district. There were crowds of us walking right next to each other looking at $1 sticks of lipstick that claimed to be MAC and $10 shoes that looked exactly like Chuck Taylors save the Converse logo. T-shirts, piñatas, skin tight pants and bustiers went on for blocks and blocks. The people behind the counters or in the isles hocking goods did not appear to be particularly concerned with makeup or fashion, they were interested in transactions. They were merchants, not artisans.IMG_1475

That same day, only a few miles away I strolled through The Grove. The street is wide enough for the double decker trolley to roll on its tracks and still allow the crowds to meander in safety. There the MAC lipstick is $25, the Chuck Taylors are $50. You can easily find skin tight jeans and bustiers (maybe not piñatas) but they will all be much more expensive. Still, the people selling them were just retailers. They may be better funded consumers, but they are not artisans, just merchants.

It is hard to comprehend or appreciate the grand scale of how many dollars and units pass through these places daily, monthly, yearly. The volume of dollars, the hours spent creating, shipping, distributing and retailing is almost incalculable. Almost. No- not true. They are absolutely calculable and that is why they, we, go through the trouble. We are making calculations and transactions because that is what we do. It is how we live. It is who we are, or at least it is who we have become. We are a society of consumers on a grand scale.

Walk through any mall in any suburb in any state and amid all those people buying, selling, and transacting, what you will rarely find is a person behind the counter doing what they love. So many of them, of us, me, are not following passions but just doing things and tasks to get by. We are trying to make it, and by make it I mean pay the rent. Maybe pay for our kids to do something they like. Maybe. Some of the people doing the buying may appear a little happier, but they are only visiting, this isn’t what they do to survive. Many of the buyers in malls are simply enduring. They are on an errand to get some sort of affordable necessity, meaning it is what the other kids are wearing and not conforming will cause discomfort. Maybe they are like me and have gained ten pounds and two inches resulting in the need for a new pair of Hagar slacks. Navy blue non-iron with those invisible stretchy side tabs allowing for the 5 extra pounds still to come. But in that mall is a fountain that no one stops to look at, a sculpture by an artist with no name, and performances attended only by parents and friends.

And the scale is astonishing.

Commerce. Transcations. Goods. Units. Revenue. Profit. Growth. Market. Market share. Margin. Money. Money. Stuff. Stuff. More. More. More.

More work, more money, more time, more things. So much. So- so, much.

I see all those widgets and things and the time and the effort and the dollars going strictly to transactions and I feel dread.IMG_4296

I feel that dread because I have also seen people struggle to pay the rent or buy food. I have known people whose entire existence is a struggle for the day to day necessities of life. I have seen people turn to crime or medication, or wish for death, because they cannot get their hands on enough money to flush the toilet, or heat the stove, or pay tuition, or drive a car. These people will never have need of a financial planner or investment manager. These people will never need a real estate agent, stylist, or consultant. There are plenty of things they will need, they are obvious, but they won’t, or don’t, get them. And what is even worse, is that these people will likely never be able to spend their hours doing things they love. They will look inside themselves and see their own value, and they will feel passion for this or that, and they won’t ever get to go there or do that, for any meaningful period of time.

Anything neglected over time will wither and die. Plants, muscles, passions, and self worth.

I was and have been told, that there is no helping others, at least not on a societal level. I have been told that the problem is the poor themselves. I have heard and been told and been taught, that the answer is God and that things must stay this way till God comes to Earth and everything becomes heaven by magic. I am quoted the scripture that says the poor will always be with us and that I should just do my best to care for me and mine. It is odd that despite my belief in God, real, actual belief, I don’t believe that. I can’t and I won’t.

I cannot believe that we humans must wait for divine intervention because we lack the knowledge will or ability to help the poor huddled masses- because I have seen Santee Alley and the Grove. I have seen and watched and participated in the wonder of producing, shipping, distributing, warehousing, selling, and consuming of piles and piles and dollars worth of stupid pointless things. The drive for dollars and plastic toys or mascara, or a fourth pair of shoes, has made distance from China to Arizona irrelevant. It has made the state of oil in the ground and rubber solidified into soles of shoes the monetary equivalent of a night at the movies. We pay millions to individuals, and billions to businesses, whose sole purpose is getting a ball through a hoop. We spend millions of dollars and millions of hours to risk our lives climbing mountains for the sole reason of saying that we did. We do all of that all of the time.

And we have to wait for God to come to Earth to find jobs for poor people? It will take Jesus and Armageddon to educate immigrants?

It makes no sense at all. None. No sense in that I see the merchants in the alley who do not love these little trinkets and have no passion for taking money in exchange for toys- but yet they do it. Every day they do it. I see the people buying things at the mall and they don’t really love that stuff and the teenagers who work there hate the stuff, and even the manufacturers who make the stuff could care less what stuff they make as long as there is profit. There is no love in it at all and I cannot stand it.

We have sacrificed passion, craft, and humanity on the altar of efficiency and revenue. We killed the unblemished lamb and blessed it with the name of free market capitalism. We have slaughtered the scapegoat and called it communism. We have made these sacrifices and at the end I fear we don’t have blessings just dead animals. I have this fear because I know so many good people doing great things, yet they, like me, remain a foundational part of the problem.

I know a doctor who spent decades studying and suffering to earn the ability to save lives, and now that he does in fact save people’s lives, he bought himself a motorcycle in addition to his every day car just for fun and because he has earned it. Meanwhile the life of the person whose life he has saved is in shambles because the insurance won’t cover the procedures and now he cannot afford to sustain his newly saved life. I know of a farmer who toiled with dirt and with books till he accumulated enough money and knowhow to industrialize. Now he makes a fortune producing food that is shipped around the world to feed the poor yet those who still work on his farm are mostly undocumented because those with rights cannot afford to live off the wages the farmer pays and those without rights have no choice but to try.

We have inhaled so completely the myth of American meritocracy that we feel we deserve the good we get and that others deserve the bad. We believe that the freedom we covet is inherently tied to private property and capital yet turn a blind eye to the correlating truth that tying freedom to those things robs the poor of all hope to be free. Every business person I know will parrot the axiom that it takes money to make money, knowing full well the poor don’t have any, and the act of loaning anything to the poor is so remarkable that doing so at a non-predatory rate will win you a Nobel Prize. Watching and hearing this is infuriating and it is easy to see why so many who care for the poor from some religious obligation could lose hope in humanity and resign themselves to wait for deity. Not me. The deity I know has never really forced the human hand and while there is definitely drama in divine interactions, they are not normally mixed with direct compulsion. Destruction maybe, but not forced action. In addition, humanity has an amazing, even godlike capacity, to strike out and accomplish whatever it is they, or we, decide we wish to do.

So the question is not, nor has it ever really been, “how do we solve world hunger?” or just, “how do we help the poor,” but rather “how do we decide to help the poor?” or “How do we convince ourselves to put people above profit?” It is all about the will. And this lack of will, or our misplaced will, is where my feelings get hurt. Because we, as a whole, have so readily and foundationally dedicated ourselves and our will to something, or everything, that so many of us simply don’t care about.

We dedicate ourselves to daily work, because we believe we have to, and our heart is not in it. Meanwhile, we gloss over or walk past, things, or activities, or people, in which or in whom we would and could so easily invest, but we do not. We cordon off our hearts and passions as extracurricular or as hobbies and see charitable donations as a tax exemption, viewing poverty as a political issue. Some discover and chase passion projects or are lucky enough to synchronize fulfillment and career, and they are almost always beginning in the middle or upper class.

If we can create a world where we can pull oil from the ground in Wyoming, ship it to China where it is formed into a Shopkin, then ship it back to California and sell it by the truckloads at Target for $2 per trinket, we can do anything we want.

Is it possible that we could restructure in a way that those who are currently laboring with transactions with no heart at all could instead follow their passions and still fill their belly? Isn’t that what a 1st world society should be? Would we be less efficient and productive? Probably. Could we craft a true meritocracy that enables the ambitious without crushing the lost and lowly? Maybe. But maybe we would also be better. Not better on an income statement or maybe not even better quality products all the time but possibly we would be better people.

Maybe. I don’t know. I do not have the detailed answers but I am convinced they exist. Maybe the one who has, or who could, decipher the answers is right now making change from a five dollar bill for someone who wants to buy a one dollar stick of lipstick.

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For Christmas I Want More Christ-like Behavior: from everyone

I like stuff, especially nice stuff. Sometimes I focus on “stuff” or things, because inanimate objects can be subjected to scrutiny without rebuffing the scrutinizer. People, or society, do no such thing and not only despise scrutiny, but too often dish it out in inhumane ways. I may be guilty of this myself, but for today’s Christmas wish I’m ignoring my own faults and look at others.IMG_1647

For Christmas I wish people with money would stop complaining about those with less.

Even those of us, especially those of us, who work hard yet still struggle to almost hold on to middle class, should stop complaining or worse yet blaming poor people for the problems of the world.passed out subway

I wish we, all of us, would stop that. It isn’t Christ like. This is Christmas.

Those in poverty are not without their faults, nor are the middle or the rich. What the poor are without is comfort and power. Why would those of us with something, no matter how little, resent those with less? The idea that the poor are the source of modern American troubles is not only false, but in my mind, a morally indefensible idea. WE, the collective we, including the rich and the middle are all guilty of moral corruption and I am tired of the demonization of those who inhabit the bottom rung of society.couchontheblock

I can think of nothing crueler, nothing as polar opposite of charity and kindness, than to abuse (in any way) those who suffer in poverty. For Christmas I wish we as a nation would be more Christ-like.

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Maybe I am Poor, Thanks For Noticing.

I think it was the car.IMG_1987

I drive not only an ugly, but a busted, car. We have two cars, one that looks almost passable but doesn’t run well, the other looks broken but runs reliably. I suppose we could spend a little money to fix the ugly car up, like paint the hood so that it matches the rest of the car, repair the dented bumper, and replace the missing headlight. But those repairs would cost more than the value of the whole vehicle and besides, it runs just fine. The other car looks almost normal but has a knock in the engine and leaks coolant. It will die soon but until it does, we will drive it.

These cars are a choice. Now some of that choice is dictated by money, if we had more we might just buy new cars, but we don’t have more money and consequentially we drive what we have. We could get a loan and buy a new car, my credit is good. But I don’t want a shiny new car enough to have a shiny new car payment.  So I choose to drive that ugly thing.IMG_6564

It must have been the car. It couldn’t be our apartment.

Most of my money goes toward rent. I pay too much in rent. We chose to live where we do, despite it being overpriced, because we wanted our kids to go to a specific school. We wanted this school because it was the best school within close proximity to my job. It was the cheapest place to live that was still on the right side of the street. It is cheap compared to the neighborhood yet remains ridiculously expensive.

Maybe it’s the clothes my kids wear.

I think they look fine. Sometimes the outfits they choose aren’t in line with my taste, but for the most part I let them choose, and they don’t choose crazy things. We don’t spend a lot on their clothes. They grow so fast and don’t have real strong opinions about brands, so I will admit; most of what they have is second hand. Macklemore said this is cool. I don’t really trust him but I hear others do.woody

It had to be something.

It had to be something because today the Church of Christ called my wife. They said they got our number from our children’s elementary school and that we had been referred to them as a family who might need a free turkey for Thanksgiving. My wife was a little surprised and politely declined. The person followed up by explaining that they were prepared to help us buy Christmas presents for our kids. Again my wife politely declined. Having turned down the caller’s generosity, they ended the call.

Should we be flattered that someone thought to do something nice for us? It didn’t feel flattering. Maybe it didn’t feel flattering because it was obvious that whoever referred us didn’t really know us, they simply judged us. I could be wrong. I want to be wrong. This feels wrong.

It feels wrong because I am not really poor. I know what poor is and while I surely don’t have what I would like, I know full well I have more than I need. It feels wrong because someone tried to do something nice and I don’t feel nice about it. It feels wrong because we invite people into our home to eat almost once a week and someone thought that we couldn’t afford enough food to feed our kids. Why would they think that? Because of our car? Because of our clothes? Are those things that important?IMG_3346

I don’t know who thinks we have fallen on hard times and maybe that’s what bothers me. It bothers me because I don’t think they know me either. Do they want to know me?

We all make assumptions about all sorts of things. It is natural and it is easy. We assume things for just those reasons; because it is easier than investigating and learning. It is easier and faster than asking questions. It is easier than caring. This does not feel like caring. This does not feel like help. It actually hurt.

It hurt because someone just looked at me, at us, and decided we couldn’t handle things. Someone looked at us and just decided we needed their help, and the help they were willing to give was a turkey. Just last week my wife and I discussed with each other our plans to hedge against our children’s holiday materialism and then the help someone thought we needed was another toy to go in our children’s already full toy bin? No.IMG_3163

Make no mistake this is not my pride speaking; I am not above help. I would love some help. I would love a promotion at work, I would love for one of my paintings to sell, I would even love a new headlight. I would love a Jeep Wrangler, I would love to see Istanbul, I would love for my daughter to have her ballet lessons scholarshipped. Give me any one of those things and I will grovel at your feet. I will sing your praises and write a post in your honor.

But no. Now when I pull up by the curb and idle my bucket in that long line of cars and kids I know you aren’t thinking, “Oh there’s Dalyn and the kids.” You are thinking, “look at those poor people.”

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The Suburban Middle Class Mind-Set: Four Wheeling Through Poverty

I have always wanted a Jeep Wrangler. Four slightly large but not huge tires, top down, and the doors removed from the hinges. Forest green, maybe black or midnight blue, not yellow. I have pictured myself driving it off road in the dirt, on the streets passing strip malls, and even pictured parallel parking it in Manhattan between a cab and a Smart car.  It was never an obsession, not a top priority, but it was always there. In 8th grade, drifting off during math class-Jeep. College, sitting in a dorm room eating instant noodles-Jeep. I have always thought it the perfect vehicle for the person I wanted to be, the vehicular expression of the inner me. I may wear a suit and tie to work, but deep inside, I’m a Jeep.

Funny thing happened when I lived in Philadelphia’s inner city, the Jeep drove away. It was not buried under life’s cares, it wasn’t towed away by day-to-day practicality, it simply drove out of my consciousness.061004-philly-W(4)

I have since moved to another local and to my surprise, the Jeep, or rather a vacant parking space meant for a Jeep, has returned to my imagination. I can’t shake that stinking contraption, it’s there all the time. I suppose I could exorcise the demon by simply buying one. I can think of a million reasons not to do that, but none of those reasons can shake the fantasy. I’m doomed and the realization of this doom has caused me to reflect a little on why this is the case. I have also reflected a little on why Philadelphia somehow made me mentally Jeep-proof. I think I know the answer, and it makes me just a little afraid of myself. It makes me a little afraid of us all. I will explain.

Philadelphia was the first place I had ever lived, not visited, where there were a lot of poor people. Now I have never been wealthy, or even very stable (reason number one for lack of four wheel drive dream car), but in Philadelphia there were people, a lot of them, that were very visibly doing much, much, worse than I. The longer I lived there, the more I not only saw such folks, but I got to know them. Names. Situations. Humans. This familiarity and proximity provided for me a new opportunity; I was able to help. I didn’t help much. In fact it could easily be argued that the net effect of me living there nine years was zero. At least zero in the dent I made on poverty. But being there and working there made a huge dent in me. That dent came from a constant blow to my chest that eventually crushed by ribs and touched my heart. I felt it. It hurt. But it didn’t only hurt it also gave me this sort of zealous energy and joy. This trying, this being needed, and this involvement in something bigger and more important than my day to day life was invigorating despite the pains I picked up along the way. Not only was it not only painful, it was also not only poor people. This was the first place I met real life rich people.

When I say rich I’m not talking the “I own a car dealership” kind of rich, I’m talking the “My name is Henry Ford the 5th”, kind of rich. Now no, I never really met the heir to Model-T dynasty, but surely I now know players in that same league and I will admit there was excitement in such encounters. Some such folks were wonderful, and others not so much; just like the poor people. Some people were doing fascinating and wonderful things with their resources, and others were just minding their own business. Knowing these people and peeking into their world taught me a few things, but it didn’t hit my heart. Some of those folks bruised my eye a little, but nothing lasting.cheesesteak

In Philadelphia I saw these two worlds, the wealthy and the destitute, rub up against each other. Watching these two tectonic plates, these huge forces of nature that have to our knowledge always existed, grate and rub, I learned what humanity is. Humanity is people, you me, us them, rich and poor. Humanity, these individual and singular people are what are important. Not the money, not the lack of it, but the person is what is important and one person interacting with another can do big things. Huge things. Things that matter! Not matter in the way that getting the high score on Angry Birds matter, but matters in the life outcomes and eternity sort of way. I got to live in that world. I was one of those people getting ground up between these two forces of nature, poverty and power, and I got to do a few little tiny things that really mattered.

And none of those things required, or had anything to do with a Jeep. That gorgeous chariot and all it offers never even occurred to me while I was there.

I have since left that city. It is a hard place to be and my job sent me somewhere else. Where I live now is wonderful. No potholes. No abandoned houses, no panhandlers, and no rib crushing blows. My kids go to a great school where I never worry about their safety and my wife never complains about the weather. I like my job, my friends, most everything about the place. I love it here-but the Jeep is back. I see it driving down the sunny streets and parked right over on the other side of my desk where chairs should be. It no longer has chrome rims, but it’s still green or blue. My dream car has returned and my chest has started healing. That dent, that damage, doesn’t hurt quite the same way, and that, is what makes me afraid.IMG_3945

My daydreams are not the faces of the people struggling to make it day to day but rather a gas guzzling car. The pain of tragedy and struggle is being replaced for a desire to have a little fun. Now make no mistake, I never abandoned fun, but it’s becoming my default setting. I had for some time filled my thoughts with doing good for other people, but without even trying, my thoughts are drifting to Jeeps. In fact I’m trying really hard to focus on doing good stuff for other people but Jeeps are all-terrain and apparently so are my daydreams. I have learned that seeing struggles on television, or the radio, or even talking to struggling people on the phone, just doesn’t hit my heart quite the same way. There is too much meat and bone, perhaps a little flab, protecting my heart from the outside world and I have a new found appreciation for a wounded heart’s ability to heal. This makes me afraid for myself. It also makes me afraid for all of us. I’m afraid because I think I might just be a normal person. Not super special or unusual, and if this is the case, than what are the rest of us dreaming about when we could be dreaming about helping people? Mine is a Jeep, what is yours?

And this matters because the one thing I refuse to forget is that those others, the ones who need help, really do need help. They need help from other people… more than I need a Jeep.

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