It’s blog action day, where thousands of bloggers share their views on a common topic, and this year the topic is poverty.
In thinking about what to write on this subject I have started to feel that perhaps (financial) poverty is not the real problem, rather it is a condition typically associated with certain greater problems, such as lack of food, drink, warmth and education. A bird, for example, may make a comfortable nest in a large tree, easily find seeds to eat and feed its family, and fly freely over any land it wishes, it has no money of course, but it will never suffer from poverty. A baby, likewise, has no money of its own, yet if the parents can afford to offer it good food and shelter it will be okay. By that same token then, if everybody was offered adequate food, drink, shelter and education by the government, financial poverty would not be as significant an issue. It is a simplistic statement and not something I propose should happen, but the point is that money, and in turn what is generally considered poverty, is not really the core problem.
In Britain it is known that many families considered to be in poverty still have a television, they may also run a car and it is not unusual for “poor” families to even pay for cable or satellite television services. Giving money to somebody may offer a potential solution to their inability to pay for food, warmth, health or education, but these may not be seen as the most pressing financial needs by the head of the family in receipt of such funds, be it income earned or handouts received. Likewise, it is probably the case that if everybody in the UK donated one pound a week we would raise enough money to ensure food for an entire medium sized African country, but when we sent the head of that country over three billion pounds a year in funds they may well have other ideas on what to use it for.
It is easily argued, then, that money is neither the problem nor the solution when we speak about poverty. It is clearly linked in an important way but the actual problem, and the actual solution, are both more human in nature.
If you travel through a village in an undeveloped country where the locals could be said to have little or nothing to their name, genuine smiles abound. If, in the most developed of countries, you travel down a classy city street, filled with successful wealthy people, you are more likely to see straight faces and frowns than you are smiles.
While I was rushing out for a little shopping earlier I was listening to a radio debate about our global financial crisis and what has to change. A fashionable viewpoint was being put forward that we must realize that our world has a limited quantity of resources and that, therefore, we need to accept that if some people are allowed to gather an unrestricted share of the planet’s wealth then others will lose out.
The Baha’i Faith teaches that while people should be rewarded in accordance with their contribution to society, the extremes of wealth and poverty must be abolished.
My own extrapolation of this is that it should feel unacceptable that one man holds enough unrequired money to shelter, feed and educate a thousand children while a thousand children are actually without shelter, food or education. The acquisition of wealth should be limited to the point where society as a whole, not just at a national level but on a global level, can remain above the poverty line. Such an endeavour requires a will on the part of those able to acquire massive wealth to see it limited in the interest of social development. At one level this can be a view forced upon us by seeing the consequences of an unbalanced global economy, but at a more fundamental level it is a question of how every citizen on earth views the rights, and values the existence, of every other member of human society. We need to be as concerned for the welfare of the starving in the developing world as we would be for those in our own country, and should be as concerned for the welfare of the homeless man in a box under a local bridge as we are for that of our own friends. Ideally we should be as concerned for the basic human rights of every individual on this planet as we are for those of our own family. Baha’u'llah (prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith) wrote a lot about the essential unity of the human race, here are a few snippets:
“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established”
“Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The One true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words.”
“It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”