Kleshas and Tanhas

ethics morals faiths ideals

Strays, Abandoned Buildings, Garbage

with 4 comments

Sure signs of poverty. I find it frustrating, to say the least, when educated people have a tendency to stress the importance of poverty outside of our country over our destitute neighbors here in America. I must admit that before arriving in Philadelphia, my priorities for where resources such as time, talent, and money were to be spent had not been set. My hometown afforded me that luxury. Yet, here I am. I enter a wormhole on Route 1 that bisects our gated university and somehow find myself transported to another world as I head off to service. A heavily impoverished world, completely separate from the affluent culture of university living. The gates bordering the university are more than just physical boundaries; they exist as the wool pulled over many students eyes, (myself included) prohibiting them from experiencing (noticing) the poverty they actually live among.

I would make it a point that my frustration is not focused on students’ tendencies to choose the pathos-invoking, starving children somewhere halfway across the globe. I actually take great pride in my school’s incredibly proactive, socially aware community. Nor is my frustration to say that there exists no sense of urgency in third world countries that also suffer from poverty’s inflictions.

My frustration derives from a fuller context of our larger society: Americans turn a blind eye to its own poverty. And in doing so, they can sleep easy knowing that they pitied some foreign country that made it on to CNN for thirty seconds. Maybe it’s this sense of sympathy; maybe Americans have enough sense to innately feel that sympathy alone towards another American is un-American. Maybe we really can tell the difference between sympathy and empathy in that our sympathy shown to our neighbors really is ineffective. Sympathy doesn’t help anything. And we know it is because our neighbors will tell us it is so. People get fed up with the pity card. We therefore shift our pity to some distanced country that cannot communicate its frustration with our passive sympathy; we are distanced from the problem.

I had the chance to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail last night. And yes, the racial context of his writing may seemingly appear contrasted with my point about poverty. Yet, when you remove the racial tone from his thesis just for a moment, you get a similar frustration with America’s poverty. “…the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…” (As a side note, I would argue that the racial tone should not be removed because every time I go to service in north Philadelphia, my service partner, a traffic guard, and myself are the only Caucasians to be seen.) Nevertheless, King goes on to depict his disappointment for the white moderate:

“who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advices the Negro [impoverished] to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

Could his words be anymore perennial? I would argue that if you cannot see the truth of his words in today’s context, you should take a walk around the “shady side” of your town on a beautiful day. I have had this opportunity for the second time while at service. The hairs on the back of my neck instinctively stood up as I walked passed peoples’ homes with shattered windows and deteriorating wood work. I had Kim, an employee at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries and local/native of the area, point out her grandmother, who I received a beautiful blessing from impromptu, as well as her cousins and friends. We pushed wheelchairs around the detours on the split sidewalks. It was impossible to go 25 yards without hitting some break in the pavement that made it impossible to transverse in a wheelchair.

Cats were in a great host in various abandoned residences. Not the average feline either; more of the stray breed. I saw a pit-bull at one point. No collar and no owner to be found. Garbage piled alongside the curbs, windswept to their permanent homes. As our little caravan ambled through the “sketchy” section of town, I couldn’t help but notice that money was not the only factor that was keeping the community from improving their immediate area. Garbage just simply needs to be picked up and thrown in a bag. And, even if the streets were lined with garbage bags until the garbage truck came by, it would sure cut the similarities between America’s streets and third world countries’. The latter seems to be what people seem are more sympathetic towards anyways…

But back to the point: why don’t people just pick up their garbage? I think the apparent answer is their desolation; their reaction to being overly sympathized by fellow Americans-the ones who still sympathize over Americans instead of distant peoples in foreign lands. They’re tired of being left to fend for themselves. They’re tired of being thrown the most pathetic bone ever: sympathy. The solution: start becoming empathetic and proactive by curing the blind-eye people turn when words like homeless, hungry, and Americans are strung together. Helping our immediate surroundings is an immediate cause-effect scenario. There’s no middleman, no tariffs on shipping foreign aid, and there’s no lack of proximity between the affluent and the destitute. Both of them are right around the corner!


Written by Jack Viere

November 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

4 Responses

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  1. “My frustration derives from a fuller context of our larger society: Americans turn a blind eye to its own poverty. And in doing so, they can sleep easy knowing that they pitied some foreign country that made it on to CNN for thirty seconds.” so true haha. i don’t get why we worry about other countries well-being so much when we have problems in our own society today. for example,when we help starving people in other countries before helping starving people in our own country. i don’t get that. i just feel like we should deal with our country’s problems and citizens first then worry about other nations.

    Will Haigh

    November 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    • You’ll be excited to know that I am planning on do a little piece on that.
      Apparently it’s called a double standard. And after breaking the fast
      for Poverty Awareness Week, they played a really moving video that
      depicted America supplying foreign aid to other countries while food
      stamps are not working as effectively (as the government? American
      population?) thinks. I’m not big into the economic discussions revolving
      around words like recession and debt, but I agree that there’s a duty
      to our immediate US citizens; it’s cheaper!

      Jack Viere

      November 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm

  2. I was talking to someone about this the other day. The “what would you do if you had a million (insert currency here)?” question came up. I said I would make sure that the people I love would get what they wanted in life, because I don’t believe in waiting in order to do something you want some day in the future, I’m sort of a here-and-now person, because we never know if we’ll randomly get hit by a meteor two weeks from now.
    Of course, donating the money to different organisations would create a bigger effect in the world. My worry is that we never actually know where this money goes and how it’s used in the end. I donate money to “save the tigers” each month but I have no idea HOW they save the tigers, maybe they save the tigers by giving the hunters a bunch of whisky so they’ll be too drunk to go kill tigers??? Who knows. Either way, I’m just trying to get around to what you said about helping your fellow-man in your immediate surroundings, helping the ones in need right there and then, because it’s cause-and-effect that you can do something about right away. I agree. If that was how you meant it 🙂


    November 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    • Your point on the indirect quality of donating money to
      oversea charities was absolutely one of my indirect
      points I was trying to make. I didn’t want my sole idea,
      however, to be that alone only because I don’t personally
      partake in donating to charities-the college budget
      can’t afford it! But I really like your humor: “Giving the
      hunters a bunch of whiskey…” I agree, I am
      frustrated with how we handle things now. Maybe what
      would help IS something drastic+sarcastic!
      Thanks for the comment!

      Jack Viere

      November 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm

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