Brief thoughts on poverty

I recently flew down to Wellington for a one day forum and, killing time in a bookshop near the Beehive, I picked up a copy of Rob Frost’s excellent book, ‘Doing the Right Thing– 10 issues on which Christians have to take a stand‘.  In this slim volume, Frost covers subjects ranging from abortion and euthanasia to global warming and multi-cultural societies with a bold, open and frank approach that is both eloquent and accessible.  Take, for instance, this passage on poverty:

Affluent lifestyle creates related expectations, so when we develop an addiction to consumerism we become the authors of our own local problems too. One of the yardsticks for measuring poverty is determining the point at which people are able to participate in society. It doesn’t take much wit to see that the more simply a community lives, the greater the number of its citizens who will be able to attain contentment. […] Where the price of basic accommodation is driven up beyond the reach of a large percentage of ordinary people, and where towns and work requirements are planned in the expectation that everyone in the community will own and drive a car, a situation is created that automatically shunts many citizens in the direction of experiencing poverty quite needlessly. There is so much hidden poverty [which is] a direct by-product of the expectations of an affluent society. This manifests not only in street-dwellers and beggars and squatters, or in people who have given up hope and taken refuge in alcohol and drugs, but in a myriad quiet, respectable, unremarkable lives lived in private desperation – without drama, but haunted by constant anxiety and a pervading sense of shame, with a hold all too precarious on what little they have, and prospects of unremitting self denial as a constant feature of life. These people, the unremarkable, uncomplaining, invisible poor, are there in every community, and their struggle is the direct legacy of affluence and consumerism.

Rob Frost’s Doing the Right Thing – Monarch Books – 2008

For the last six months, I have been focusing on two key activities in my work: defining the remit for a new social responsibility management role and developing a  policy and programme to assist those experiencing financial hardship.  My desktop research and engagement with social agencies and NGOs has provided me with a new insight into what disadvantaged, hardship and poverty really mean in the 21st century in a ‘developed’ nation like New Zealand.  However, the text above (my emphasis) roared off the page and struck me as an evocative and damning indictment on how we first-worlders live our lives and the devastating effect this has on individuals, families, communities and societies across the globe.

I have no ready answer to this juggernaut of social issues.  However, I do know that any solution will require each of us to continually examine our lives and ask ourselves what the impact of our actions are.  Regardless of faith, creed or race, each of us can use our conscience as a balance point, a pivot on which our choices can be tested and likely impacts discerned.

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