Poverty has been much in the news lately, at home and abroad. Poverty is a significant factor in the unrest sweeping the Middle East and is responsible for numerous social ills here in Canada.
What attitudes do Canadians have about the poor?
The Salvation Army has just released the findings of an Angus Reid survey on the attitudes of Canadians towards the poor. Here's what Canadians said:
- Forty-one percent of Canadians surveyed believe that the poor will take advantage of social assistance and do nothing themselves to improve their situation.
- Fifty percent believe a family of four can live on $10,000 - $30,000 per year. (Statistics Canada puts the poverty level for a family of four at $35,000 per year.)
- Twenty-five percent think the poor are lazy and of low moral character.
- Almost half those surveyed believe that if poor people want a job, they can find one.
- Although 95 percent said everyone deserves to live with dignity, only 65 percent saw a connection between poverty and living with dignity.
It is no easy task to escape the cycle of poverty. For some, the cycle is generational, following a child into adulthood. For others, it is a downward spiral resulting from addictions, abuse, and mental health problems. And for others, poverty comes knocking due to job loss and prolonged unemployment.
What can be done about poverty?
- First, we need to educate ourselves. Education encourages us to reevaluate our preconceived ideas about the poor. It helps us to understand the causes of poverty. With understanding, comes an increase in compassion. To this end, the Salvation Army has launched “The Dignity Project.” (Although the Dignity Project video views a bit like an infomercial for the Salvation Army, it does provide some insight into the causes and effects of poverty. View the video and learn more about the efforts of the Salvation Army to combat poverty at http://dignity.salvationarmy.ca/
- Second, we need to become involved. We can donate to anti-poverty organizations. We can pressure government to do more to eliminate poverty. We can become active in local organizations that help the improvished in our towns. Visiting the websites of organizations like “End Poverty Now”( http://www.endpovertynow.ca/en/home) is a good place to discover how to make a difference at the national and international levels.
Making poverty personal:
For poverty to be real to us, we need to experience it. We do not need to become impoverished ourselves, but we need to encounter the poor among us and we need to be moved to action.
Last year, I was involved with a project to provide school supplies to children of the working poor in my community. In a three-week period, we raised over $5000 and were able to provide over 70 students from grades 1 to 12 with school supplies.
Consider the following situations:
- The 13-year-old girl who cried with joy because she had new school supplies for the first time in her life.
- A single mother who collected empty bottles to scrape together enough money to put food on the table.
- A father of four who, the day before school started, had nothing to send to school with his children.
Imagine being 10 years old. It is the first day of school and you have no supplies. Everyone sees that you are poor. Imagine being the parent of that child; imagine the shame, the worry, and the sense of inadequacy.
If we as a society are going to alleviate poverty, we have to become familiar with the faces of poverty in our communities. The poor are not some faceless category of individuals; they are our neighbours. We need to be invested in their well being.
The Gospel Challenge: Mark 10: 17-27
There is a story in the Gospel of Mark about a rich young man who follows Jesus and throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He has a pressing question: what does he need to do to inherit eternal life? When he hears the answer, he goes away sad.
Jesus tells the man he must honor the commandments, sell his riches and give the proceeds to the poor.
The problem with the rich man was not that he was rich, but that he was concerned only about himself. He followed the laws, but he lacked generosity. He was immune to the needs of others. Jesus wants the young man to give of himself. So he challenges the young man to change his attitudes and to serve others.
Jesus is not telling us to sell everything. He is not recommending that we live in poverty. He is urging us to check our hearts for a lack of generosity towards the vulnerable and needy. Jesus is recommending that we cultivate an attitude of generosity so we can respond to the needs of others.
Based on the results of the survey, Canadian attitudes towards the poor could be a little more generous.