I wonder if you and I are really any different from the woman who said,
“I don’t think you understand. I hate kids.”
She was right, actually. I didn’t understand. I thought I had heard her incorrectly.
“I don’t like kids. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t relate to them.”
I realize now that she doesn’t actually hate kids. She just feels uncomfortable around anyone who’s notably different from her. Anyone she can’t relate to easily is a little bit, well, scary. She would rather avoid them.
And I wonder if a camaraderie about something that is, frankly, a little bit shameful might actually be where we can start building our own personal and community efforts to break the chains of those held in a death grip by extreme poverty.
Brainstorm with me here for a minute.
This acquaintance of mine is certainly not the only person in the world who feels uncomfortable around kids. She isn’t alone in feeling uncomfortable around people from another culture or another economic reality.
In fact, I’ve been a bit surprised recently at just how many people I know who have stayed away from the challenge of fighting poverty because the whole thing is just uncomfortable.
Maybe your friends or colleagues wouldn’t use the word uncomfortable. Maybe they would use adjectives like overwhelming, challenging, thankless, too big of a risk, or uncontrollable. They may even fall back on some unflattering biases about the poor including the stereotype that most of the poor are poor because they just don’t work hard enough.
Please believe me when I say I am not out to objectify people who hold these preconceptions. They’re a very present reality in our Western world. Some individuals are just a little more honest about it than others.
I’ve seen these attitudes outside of the West, too. Some blurt out,
“I hate kids.”
Others softly chide,
“Stewardship is important but I need to ensure that there will be a good return on my investment or it’s just not worth the risk.”
The perceived risk makes them uncomfortable.
So how do we address these realities? Because if we’re truthful, although most of us fully believe that children and adults can be released from poverty, we have all felt the weight of those unflattering adjectives ourselves from time to time.
What causes you, an advocate for the poor, to stay strong and carry on in those moments when you feel combating poverty is overwhelming, unappreciated, or uncomfortable? Is there a specific moment or story you can point to and say,
“I have been there, I have felt that, and I know the rewards of persevering.”
But I think that to really communicate with those who are skittish, or those who genuinely want to say “I am uncomfortable around kids” or “I don’t know how to relate to the poor,” we need to find a bridge.
That connection won’t come by patronizing or scolding the other person. It’s going to come through authentic conversation — respectful exchanges in which we express that, really, we’ve felt the same way too … but here’s what happened, here’s why this thing we call “fighting poverty” is working, and here’s why it’s so important that you get involved even though, right now, you might just feel a bit uncomfortable.