Poverty is utterly irreconcilable


Sometimes when I write on this blog, I cite a problem or frustration in my life, then sort of summarize how I plan to handle my frustration. But there comes a time when all you can do is recognize that a problem exists; there’s not always a clear solution or way for individuals to handle it, and now is one of those times.

Today, it’s about poverty. I have no clue how I ought to individually approach the problem, or what stance to take, because it’s a contentious issue in politics, and is controversial on a level as micro as my family; my sister and I differ on how to regard poor people.

My sister is very emotional and visually swayed. We live in a part of town that sort of contrasts two extreme sects of society – we constantly see poor people on the streets. Just a few days ago, we were driving to school and it was drizzling but had been pouring rain all throughout the previous night. We stopped at a corner that had a large orange construction cone. Sitting there, I witnessed the cone wiggle around a bit out of the corner of my eye, and I was absolutely speechless as I looked over and realized that there was a homeless man sitting inside of the construction cone. It was large enough so that his body could fit inside, but small enough so that his feet stuck out as he shuffled around.

I’ve always been able to provide some words of consolation for my sister because I’m usually not swayed when it comes to seeing impoverished people on the streets, but on that particular morning I didn’t know what to say because the sight of this man made me feel awful inside.

I’ve always told myself and my sisters that my approach to these sort of social issues is education: if time and resources are limited, we want to maximize our strengths. The way I see it, if an issue truly concerns me, I’ll be much more suited to address it after I’ve gone through college, because maybe by then I’ll have a job or have reached a more influential level in society that I’ll be able to make a larger scale change. Why give a dollar today when I could give ten dollars tomorrow? Why provide one meal when I could contribute to a foundation that specializes in sustainable life skills that last a lifetime? Even if it isn’t as visually obvious as we’d like, every ounce of effort trades off between today and the future. Maybe my calculus is flawed, but I don’t see why we should value poverty today over poverty tomorrow. The problem will always exist; we only have control over how efficiently we can contribute to its solution.

But now I’m questioning that logic because doubts now occur to me. What if I don’t want to help poor people once I get a job? As unlikely as that seems, I can see many scenarios in which this takes place. Are all of these efforts zero sum, or is there some inherent value to attempting to deal with these issues when you’re young?

Here’s what happens much too often, somewhere every single day. You pull up to a curb, glance at a homeless person holding a paper cup and looking humbly at you, and stare straight ahead as your heart clenches. All the while, you maintain a stoic expression, as the rest of your life flashes before your eyes and you imagine yourself reaching into your wallet and handing him a fiver, because that’s the least you can do. You think about social inequality and how inevitable it is that life unfairly treats people this way.

But then the light turns green. And you breathe a sigh of relief, because you now have an excuse to drive off and move on with your life. Instantly, the image of the beggar slowly fades from your mind, leaving nothing but a dull numbness, until the next time you pull up at a curb.

So I don’t really have a conclusion. Poverty is an awful, awful social issue that makes my stomach twist, but I constantly repress my emotions because I see so many other pressing problems that my efforts will be stretched out. I absolutely don’t know what to do about it, how to approach it, or even how to think about it. Is it degrading to speak about them the way I have? What to do?

Meanwhile, calm yourself with Wild Child; I am IN LOVE.


  1. Pingback: Dear Vicky, You’re a junior now… | Catherine Zhang

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