Saturday, October 10, 2009

Glorifying Poverty

Is poverty something to be glorified?

No. Absolutely not.

Poverty is a serious issue. About 21% of the world's population is living on less than $1.25 per day, one in five people. That is for food, shelter, medical and clothes. What can you get for $1.25?

Bread from the almost expired rack?

A few bananas?

Is that enough to feed you every day?

And what about shelter?

Many people living below the world poverty level are living in climates where they won't freeze to death at night, but that does not make them safe. Forget about crime, there is disease, sewage, no clean water.

And medical? Forget about it! I had my choice of midwives for my home birth. I have health resources at my fingertips through the internet. I can head to an emergency room if I needed to and get the best emergency treatment in the world. Those are luxuries many cannot fathom. For many, even third world standards of medical treatment are out of reach.

I don't know how many of you have heard of Daniel Suelo. He lives in Utah and, for a myriad of reasons, he makes and uses no money by choice. He lives in a canyon. He trash picks for food and forages. He goes on adventures around his area with friends. He has many friends. He blogs about it here. Although he technically lives below the international poverty line, he is far from impoverished. He has need of nothing, for he lives off of the glut of our nation. He has much to offer.

This is a chart showing the distribution of the world's wealth. Our total household income is around $20,000, divided by the number of individuals; I have marked where my family is on the chart.
In America, our income puts us far below the American poverty line, but resources abound here. We are in no desperate situation. We have far more than we need. We may not have as much as you, or as much as you may think we should have, but we still have far more than we need.

29 comments:

I'm Lori...and maybe I'm you, too. said...

I am sorry, but I continue to believe it is a disingenous measure to place your decision to live at this level in juxtaposition to people who have no choice.

Jennifer said...

I read an article once about decluttering, but she posed a question that I think fits in well with the way you live. When deciding whether to keep something, she asked "Will I lack?"

That question just resonates with me in so many areas. Will I lack without this pile of whatever? Will I lack without a weekly trip to McDonald's?

When I really ask myself that question and listen... I get by with far less. And I don't miss it.

Anonymous said...

We truly do have so much living in North America, in Canada we are so lucky to have our health care covered, it never costs me anything to see a doctor, I am blessed.

My father grew up on a farm, they never went hungry but they did without electricity (my dad was ten before they had it installed), and they used an outhouse until the late sixties.

But they always had fresh food and plenty of it, I often wonder while sitting in my house with all my modern machines ie. washing machine and dishwasher, whether that life that my father had growing up was more worthwhile. While doing chores on the farm, he learned perseverance and hardwork.

It's something my children will never have to endure, but I do try to live below our means and while doing so we paid off our house (we're in our mid thirties), have little debt etc., I am trying to teach my boy's the value of a dollar and only buy items on sale at the grocery store.

But I digress, as a society we are far too materialistic, we have lost the simplicity once found in the typical family life. I like my life to be simple, it's easier on my children as well.

I try to teach my children how others live in third world countries and how people in the land of plenty even go without; and as mothers we try our best to raise our children with values to counteract the modern culture that has seem to have lost all morals.

So each day I look for ways to be frugal, in the hopes that my little men will grow to become non-materialitic as adults and avoid the consumerist trap of credit.

Terry Lynn

Devon said...

I agree. We have so much that so many cannot even imagine. However, I feel that since we do live in a society that can provide it (even though at a price), I have a moral obligation to provide the best for my child--in health care, education, etc. That doesn't mean I have to get him clothes from the Gap (or even new clothing), obviously, but the best I can provide for him. I am sad for those who live in deplorable conditions in oppressive governments who are attempting genocide. These things should not be. Because they are, however, is not a reason for me to provide less for my child.

I guess all we can do is the best we can do.

Atheist Mama said...

I've always said even the poorest people in the U.S.A are rich compared to a large percentage of the world...which is terribly sad, in my opinion.

Your family has all their NEEDS met. That's not poor.

Anonymous said...

Lori, what is so disingenuous about choosing to live below one's means? If anything, it is a virtuous trait that you perhaps may want to emulate.

Taurman Inc. said...

Emily,
I am new to you and I want you to know I am so appreciating your blog. I have way more than I need but due to very poor judgement and a lot of circumstances out of our control I have found my family stuggling. I am so happy to see someone 16 years my junior with her head on her shoulders. We are currently making an attempt to straighten out our situation and teach our kids proper use of money. May God Bless your family and the precious one on the way.
Rena'

Dogfood Provider said...

About time for this post. I don't understand how it can be "disingenuous" to look beyond the imaginary walls of our country at how the rest of the world lives. What makes you think that, if people had the choice, they would all trade their troubles for yours? It's all relative.

Rachel said...

Emily, another person to read about is Eustace Conway. He loved nature while growing up in a suburban neighborhood, and when he graduated from high school he walked into the North Carolina forest, and that is where he lives today. He built his own cabin, hunts for his own food, and uses the skins of animals to make his own clothes. His story is told in the book "The Last American Man" by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is fascinating reading.

The comment above asks the question 'will I lack". The main thing I got from the book about Conway is our thinking as a nation that we cannot do anything for ourselves. You may not carry it as far as cutting down trees to build a cabin, but look at the other things you could learn to do. You could learn to make pizza instead of calling Pizza Hut, you could practice on cutting your own hair, if you mess up it will grow back, and you may find that you don't really need to pay someone to do it. The list goes on and on. There are things we could learn to do almost every day of the week. I think that is why I enjoy this blog so much. Emily, you are always finding that you can do what so many people won't even try to do.

Anonymous said...

kudos to having such a strong desire to live a certain way...

i on the other hand desire to have material things, to send my future children to a public (or GASP! a private school) and well, maybe, just maybe eat out once or twice a week....

what i don't desire - having a blog that i continually feel the need to justify myself to perfect strangers. emily, you are obviously a strong woman, a loving mother, etc. i enjoy your posts and how you stretch your limited income....posts like these, well...they are just asking for an opposing viewpoint.

lori, while i am in the minority, agree with you.

Sam said...

If you earn around $20,000 a year, isn't that closer to $1700 a month?

Emily said...

Sam, we get $1000 per month, roughly for income. We get a tax refund/credit, which goes mostly to my husband's schooling, and I made some money to pay midwifery expenses. The $1000 is what we pay for month to month living expenses.

Leslie said...

I personally feel easily overwhelmed by too much, and seem to remember finding more satisfaction in my life, on the whole, when I had less. I had less money, less stuff, and, like you, took pride in the fact that my family and I still had everything we NEEDED, and quite a lot of what we WANTED.

Then I had a completely unexpected health crisis, closely following a more predictable marital crisis.

I read your blog pretty critically, but I do so because this lifestyle of aftermath is my perspective. I lived within, or below, my means, and had great faith that I would always be just fine, going along that way.

I hope this comment comes across the way I want it to: encouraging and affirming of a lot of what you're doing, but with well-intended advice to re-evaluate some of your premises.

Lucette said...

I may be wrong, but here is what I think Lori is getting at:

The difference between the way Emily lives and the way millions of people in poverty live the world over is that Emily is doing this by choice. I am sure that, given the opportunity, the vast majority of people in poverty would make changes in their lives to provide higher quality foods for their families (with more variety), receive high-quality medical care, further their and their children's education at little or no cost, etc.

Women living in the Congo do not have this option. Their husbands cannot take a higher-paying job with health benefits. They cannot work one day a week to earn money for more food. They cannot send their children to public schools knowing they will be learning in a safe environment.

That is why it is disengenious. Emily has a choice. Others are not so lucky. Her choice to suffer does nothing to improve the lives of those who suffer so greatly elsewhere.

Does most of America live under the strain of excess? Certainly. But I don't think Emily's lifestyle is the "answer" either.

Nota said...

I think the current financial crisis in our country has a lot of people defining 'need v. want' very differently. I don't consider doing the best you can with what you have (within your belief system) to be glorifying poverty. There are those that would say you should compromise your beliefs to make more money, but what good is any of it if you can't look at yourself in the mirror.

Good luck with the birth.

S. said...

You can't really compare $1.25 in the US to $1.25 in, say, Bangladesh. A couple years ago I visited one of the poorest cities in the world, and you could buy a kebab and a mango for less than ten American cents.

Not that I'm trying to argue that such crippling poverty is acceptable in ANY way, but it's something to keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

I think you have some interesting points but just one comment. You can't depend on the ER for your medical care. As a medical professional this is a huge issue that we see - the issue of moral hazard. Going to an ER for care and not paying the bill will cost the hospital and the taxpayers much more than if you accept Medicaid or Medicare for you and your children. People, especially children, need consistent medical care. And the info on the internet is not a reliable source or doctor. One could have just about any ailment based on symptom lists found online. You seem dedicated to your family. I would hope that their medical needs are a priority.

Anonymous said...

Just tried the pumpkin, but with a mini pumpkin as I did not want to bike home with a heavy, untried meal. It was great! I added butter and cinnamon to my slices. Playing with spices would definitely keep it new over the season. -Cris

Anonymous said...

Emily, you're comparing apples and oranges. Yes, your income is much higher than the average income for the rest of the world, but your expenses are much, much higher. I'm sure people living on $1 a day are not spending $600 a month on rent. You are also choosing to live on $1000 a month even though you have the potential to earn more than that.

I understand your point that you feel happy with what you have, but it's condescending for you to imply that people with a higher income are turning wants into needs. Personally, I believe that having insurance (including dental) is a necessity, as is having an emergency fund. I also believe that when the government provides programs to alleviate the financial situation of impoverished Americans, those resources should be used.

Anonymous said...

Dan Suelo lives in a cave and is not someone I would recommend emulating. He is damaging both the cave environment and the lives of the bats who roost there. Not exactly an awesome person.

Anna said...

I have a feeling a baby may be on the way...since you haven't blogged since Saturday! Maybe baby ;)

Virginia said...

oh, this was posted Saturday. It is Monday. Does that mean we are busy with a new baby? Hope all is well at your house! (not that you will have time to appove my message)

Anonymous said...

I read a long article on the man in Utah. He eats "leftovers" out of dumpsters, sleeps in a cave with scorpians and bugs that suck his blood, and bums off of his friends. That's not someone I admire or aspire to be. Humans learned thousands of years ago that this lifestyle is unsanitary and begs disease and illness. I do think you glorify poverty. Don't you ever wish you could just go grocery shopping and make your all time favorite dinner, or eat a delicious meal at a fine restaurant? Don't you wish you provided insurance for your children so that if they did break an arm, you could pay for the doctor to fix it without any assistance? The reason we work hard and earn what we do is for the security it provides us, the peace of mind, our future children, and for the ability to help others and support our church.

Atheist Mama said...

You haven't blogged in a couple days...I'm guessing you had your baby??

Yay! & Congrats :)

crabcakes said...

Haven't seen any updates from you and I'm hoping it's because you are working out that new addition! Good Luck Mama!

Anonymous said...

I really don't understand why people are so concerned with how you choose to live your life and calling it disingenuos. You are choosing not to work so you can raise your children, which I think is awesome. Your kids seem happy and YOU seem happy. I hope that I am lucky enough to stay home and raise my children myself rather than shipping them to daycare every morning (if/when I have kids, that is). And if that means we will live on less money to do so, then so be it.

I wonder how much debt these people who judge you are in. In my opinion you are living the way all people (including me) should live - within your means.

The comment about offering higher quality food to your kids made me roll my eyes. From what I've read you feed your family better quality food than what the majority of Americans eat. So is eating a diet full of processed foods a sign of wealth now?

Congratulations on your new addition to the family!

Emily said...

I am not in poverty. That was the point of this post. Real poverty is a serious issue, but not one that is bearing down on my family.

titus2woman said...

Please forgive me for not reading all the comments, as I could not get through them all. I feel like this post is very misunderstood! This is Emily's current situation~does that necessarily mean it's a choice? Why or why not? There are many people in America who live below the poverty line and have spent wisely and worked hard their entire lives and never been able to get ahead. Where's the choice in that? And I do NOT see this post as a comparison of people around the world in serious poverty~I see it as proof to the contrary. Just my unasked for .02. (((((HUGS))))) sandi

titus2woman said...

So funny how others perceive us sometimes... I was just criticized for teaching my children to save a portion of their monies, spend a portion, and donate/tithe a portion. I was told by someone today that the rich should do that and not the really, really poor. Indirectly telling me that we're really, really poor~LOL! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

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