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The Poverty Myth

Empty Wallet

Empty Wallet

Dumb Little Man is a perennial supporter of Blog Action Day. Last year, I wrote about recycling as the topic pertained to ‘going green’. That was simple. This year, the focus is on poverty. As I write this, I am riddled in what I can only call an epiphanic moment.

The myth is that I believed my family and I were doing enough to help. I quickly learned that I am a mental weakling on this topic due to my ignorance and complete lack of concern to the conditions in neighborhoods and countries that I don’t see.

For the first time in a long time, I am disappointed in myself and I admit it. While some may insist that I am inserting drama into this, I can assure you that I’m not.

As an example, consider that from middle-class suburbia I donate clothes to the poor every year. It’s not earth-shattering but it’s something. However, let’s be honest – it’s not entirely because I am helping the poor. Although I feel good during the actual drop-off, it’s the tax deduction that I am after. While that may not be the lesson I teach the kids on the way to the drop-off site, it’s reality.

Although I personally enjoy helping people, I am now realizing that there is a selfish side, a ‘what’s in it for me‘ attitude that persists when it comes to poverty or homelessness. I am not indicating that I have evidence of a broad global problem but my hunch is that this attitude is indeed widespread.

This realization is painful to admit. I have been too busy worrying about what size monitor I have, if my blog is updated, and who is visiting my Facebook page. I hope I am alone and that most people genuinely go out of their way to help humanity but that can’t be the case. Personally, I am resolving to do more so consider the following as my elementary education into poverty, charity and becoming more giving. Perhaps you will find some benefit in it.

Out of sight, Out of mind
This is an excuse that we all use. It’s simple to turn off the TV when you see Bono talking about poverty. It’s simple to hit ‘home’ on your browser when you come across an article about undernourishment in some other country. Our problems are not that we don’t get information, it’s that we’re too busy (or choose to be too busy) to reflect on the information and then ultimately act on it.

I don’t believe my epiphany will lead to Jay White, The Crusader. However, I will make a concentrated effort to learn more and at least identify what I can personally do whether it’s helping locally with an organization like PADS or through a legitimate global organization.

You are Not Moving Mountains – We Are
I will never forget those Sally Struthers’ infomercials. No matter how many times I saw the images of the skinny little boy with a mosquito stinging his eye (not pictured), it always touched me – until I changed channels. In her infomercials, she always used to say something like, “for just pennies a day you can help.”

The point here is that you alone don’t have to support someone or something, it’s the group as a whole that will make a difference. Don’t turn your shoulder just because you think your $2 is insignificant. My suburb has 15,000 people. If 50% of us donated $2, we’d have $15K. That’s enough to do something.

Is Cash King?
Money is the American way and for most people, contributing a few bucks makes them feel good inside. I am not downplaying cash; it is important and all good causes need cash. However, I truly feel that being there, in the midst of poverty, will change your outlook in a way that a monetary donation never will. As we approach the holiday season, why not donate your time instead of your cash? If you have children, consider bringing them with to help at a warming station. A two hour investment will impact you for years. Note: it’s doesn’t have to be holiday season to help.

Here or There?
There is an ongoing debate regarding who and where to help. If there are any Oprah Winfrey fans in the house, you’ll recall the flack she received after funding and starting a school in Africa. “Why not help the kids in Chicago?”, everyone asked.

Listen, I am not going to get into a debate on who you should help. However, there is something near and dear to all of us and there are causes that we can support and feel good about. Find something that makes you feel good and act on it.

Finding a Cause to Support
This has historically been a problem because people want to know specifically where their money goes. To help dissect the plethora of charities, you can visit sites like Charity Navigator or Donor’s Choose. You can even go as far as loaning entrepreneurs money in poverty stricken areas by using sites like Kiva.

I haven’t yet decided how I am going to change my behavior. As recent as yesterday, I was ignorantly pleased with myself. I do know however that it’s going to be a family decision; I want my kids to be just as involved as me and my wife. I don’t expect to take a trip to Rwanda, but I can gaurantee that my family will soon be making a difference, albeit small, somewhere.

What are YOU going to do

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