Sunday, June 12, 2005

Understanding Poverty

I come from one of the poorest families that has ever existed in Canada, I'm sure. Despite the fact that I was born in 1969, long after the depression and all that other stuff, we slept in abandoned cars and houses, and were homeless and without food constantly. Most of the suffering that happened in my family came from deep unhappiness and emotional instability; the help was there, but we didn't take it.

It is very hard to explain poverty to someone who has not experienced it. While I have an education, and a bit of cash now, I still feel very uncomfortable in other people's houses. I feel like I am "dirty" or unworthy somehow. I have learned how to cope with this, and I have made incredible strides toward being "normal," but some of this "class awareness" will always be with me. I am also very sensitive about looking poor. I will go to great lengths to make sure my clothing is similar to the clothing of an upper or middle class person. It becomes a little weird when the current fashion is to look kind of hobo-ish and ratty. I am dressing down to dress up so people don't think I am forced to dress down by poverty... hmmm....
These are some of the silly things that go through the minds of the poor or formerly poor. It comes from the family rules of keeping things silent. Poor parents are afraid of having their kids taken away, so the kids are told to act normal. Learning that each one of us creates our own sense of normal is part of the healing that we must go through. I am simply a person doing what I feel is best in each situation, instead of having large judgements about intangible nuances of class and culture. This is maturity. For example, I used to spend enormous amounts of money on spontaneous things, especially the day after payday. I was compelled to blow my cash because I associated spending with power, and wealth. I know it seems silly, but telling a cabbie the address you wish to be driven to can feel empowering to someone who can rarely afford a trip on the bus, let alone a taxi. Now I look at each thing I wish to buy, and I ask myself if it fits my current situation. It took a LONG time and several thousands of dollars to reach this realization: spending money is a denial of poverty. Overcoming poverty is like overcoming anything; you have to do what's right for where you're at.