Should Poverty Be Embarrassing?
Is it our fault if we’re rich or poor and should there be a stigma?
I’ve just read a post on Facebook. A mum had two tickets to a kids event that they could no longer go to. She wanted to gift them to someone else who was struggling financially. That’s nice, I thought. Helping someone out in difficult times. The first comment was a lady who said that she was struggling financially and went on to explain exactly why she was struggling with money.
I thought that was awful, that to receive these free (unwanted) tickets she had to tell everyone in that group how poor she was and why. What had led to her being in this difficult situation. Why can't we just be compassionate to people without attaching strings? It is very un-British. We have a saying, ‘don’t air your dirty washing in public’ which is a complicated way of saying ‘don’t show people the bad things that are happening to you’. A bit like putting on a brave face in public.
Then I thought about it a bit more. Why shouldn’t that lady tell people her story? She hadn’t done anything wrong. Yes, she’s poor at the moment, but that’s not her fault. She’d had some difficult and unpredictable things happen to her. Why shouldn’t she be honest about a situation that isn't her fault?
Would that be the same if it were her fault?
If she was out of work.
If she’s out of work, she shouldn’t be, right? She shouldn’t have let herself become out of work?
People lose their jobs. Restructuring, companies relocating, companies making redundancies. Sometimes people are in jobs that they are not suitable for. They chose to leave before they face disciplinary action. There’s a whole load of reasons that people become out of work and I can’t think of many that involve blame. Getting a new job isn’t always easy or quick.
If she had a gambling addiction and lost her money.
It’s obviously her fault that she has no money. She shouldn’t be gambling, then she wouldn’t be poor.
We have all gambled at some point. Choosing where to put our savings, a game of bingo on holiday, money in seaside arcade machines, raffles. The last time I gambled was a bet I had with my son, who is a graphic designer. I bet him that his customer would say that the piece reminded him of Bod. Unfortunately, I lost the bet and had to buy him a bar of chocolate!
I don’t think that I will ever have a gambling problem. I get bored too easily. I use the 2p machines at the seaside, but after about £1, I’m done! That doesn’t make me better than someone with a gambling addiction. Just different.
If she had an alcohol addiction and was poor as a result.
That’s easy — it’s definitely her fault, isn’t it? She bought it, she drank it — she shouldn’t have done.
Hmmm. I don't have an alcohol addiction, but I have abused alcohol a few times. The last time was after a very difficult time in my life, where I had spent most of a night awake supporting and calming a very angry disabled person. I went to the pub the next evening, feeling that I really needed a drink. On reflection, a drink may have been helpful but the rest of the drinks were definitely not!
I have used alcohol to help me cope. Is that so different?
There are many things that make an addiction to alcohol more likely, growing up in a situation where heavy drinking is normal, experiencing stress, and genetic factors. Maybe I am lucky not to have an alcohol dependence.
Let’s look at a completely different situation.
What about someone who has great successes on the stock market, then loses it all? Is it their fault that they are poor?
That depends. They didn’t intend to lose all of their money. It’s reasonable to assume that they did their best to avoid losing their money. If we considered them to be clever when they were making mountains of money, it stands to reason that we consider them culpable when they are not. If making money is within your control, then losing it is as well?
Money is an object. A commodity. A thing. You may have lots of it or a little of it. A bit like cars, socks or carrots. I don’t feel proud of myself because I have plenty of carrots, neither did I feel embarrassed about my lack of carrots before I bought them. So why should we feel like that about money?
I think, like the lady in the Facebook post, we should be able to discuss our finances without pride or embarrassment. It just is what it is.
I’m going to struggle with it. It goes against the way I am, but I’ll have a go now.
At the time of writing, this story hasn’t earned me any money. If you read it (and my other articles on Medium) I will have more money and be able to buy more things! Then I can be more honest about having money!