Poverty: Why care during the holidays?

During the holidays as most of us get ready to lavish gifts on our loved ones and participate in a number of festive meals and gatherings, it is hard not to think of the many people in our community and around the world who are living in poverty and for whom the holidays hold no such luxuries.

Aside from obvious humanitarian reasons and feelings of empathy for the vast majority of humanity living in abject poverty, why should we care about the plight of these people when we are living large in comparison?

Well on a strictly self preserving level, we might consider that those with nothing to lose often make the most dangerous opponents. Desperate people do desperate things.

At a community level, those who are homeless or living in poverty have little to lose by engaging in criminal activity. If you add this to the effects of drug and alcohol addiction and mental illnesses that also affect judgment and impulse control, it is little surprise to see the kinds of activities that take place – and it becomes very difficult to eliminate the negative consequences of this combination of factors.

In addition, we have the psychological effects on children who grow up in poverty. In this group there are higher rates of addiction, mental illness and personality disorders not to mention cynicism about a system that has let them down. These are not the citizens we want to create for tomorrow as they can fall easily into the criminal cycle mentioned above – with nothing to lose.

The living conditions in our own communities is not getting any better - already inner cities across the western world have become large public washrooms for those who have nowhere else to relieve themselves. People are urinating, defecating and fornicating in public places and our typical solutions involve arresting these individuals, moving them along, taking their shopping carts or unruly looking belongings and installing pop-up toilets for use after dark.

Of course, these measures do nothing to combat the real problem. Why not create a quality of life that gives people dignity and something to live for.

On the world stage we have suicide bombers and militants in many countries where there is instability and mass poverty. These individuals don’t care if they die and in many cases believe they will go to a better place in the end so choose their own death in order to become martyrs.

It is very difficult to defend against people whose desperation has made them radical. It is impossible to remove all risk for those on the defensive and the act of reducing risk can lead to serious further degradation of quality of life for the economically privileged.

Meanwhile the rich are getting richer, the environment is degrading, terrorists are multiplying and yet our individual and societal responses remain virtually unchanged.

It will likely take a major world-wide breakdown or crisis to get people looking at new and truly innovative solutions to the problem of serious poverty in the world. Will this be global warming with coastal cities underwater, worldwide pandemics that cannot be controlled in poverty stricken countries, or some other catastrophe that affects all of humanity?

Wouldn’t it be better if we could work together now to come up with solutions that mean everyone has a chance to live life in safety and dignity? Will we wait for solutions to be implemented by government while the rest of us live as though it is every person for his or herself with no one wanting to be the first to give anything up for the greater good of all?

I hope not. I hope that even in small ways we could each think of those around us and around the world who have little reason to celebrate and we could come up with some way to start a movement of change without the need for even greater crisis than already exists.


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