I watched 1,500 refugees a day stream into the camp wearing the only earthly possessions they had- the clothes on their back. I wonder what my worldview would be if the only thing I owned were the clothes on my body?
I have spent a considerable amount of time around the poorest people on earth. Because of my work in the hunger space- that intersection of government agencies, nonprofits, and businesses that try to alleviate hunger- I’ve met people who wear all of their earthly possessions on their body.
I call it innocent arrogance and have been guilty of it myself. It goes like this: I have much and in my magnanimously good heart, I share a few things with the needy. While charity is great, it sometimes brings an arrogance that is often accompanied by condescension. However, in the exchange that happens in any charitable transfer of goods from the haves to the have-nots, the only ones that feel good are the haves.
It’s easy to pity the poorest of the poor, but I’ve discovered they don’t really want pity; they want help. Most people don’t want relief aid, they want their life back; they want the feeling of worth that comes from being able to provide for themselves.
Here are things I remind myself of to keep the innocent arrogance in check and make sure I treat all people the same:
The Ovarian Lottery- This is a phrase that Warren Buffet uses as he readily admits that his success came because of a factor largely beyond his control: the country of his birth and quality of parents. Although we might all be created equal, we are not all born with equal opportunities. We have unlimited opportunities in America; many countries have almost none.
Human Dignity – How I treat people is a reflection of my view of human dignity and whether or not people deserve to be treated with dignity. Granted, respect is earned, but dignity should be a given. Treating people with dignity is an admission of the value of human life.
It could be me- We are all temporarily able bodied. At some point in our life in the past and at some point in the future, we are going to be dependent on someone else to take care of us whether we like it or not. A few years ago, I beefed it on an icy parking lot and woke up in an ambulance. Someone cared and called 9-1-1. I was, temporarily, totally dependent on the good will of a stranger.
The poor are never less than anybody; the rich are never greater than anybody. Finding that spot in my heart where I treat the rich or poor with the same dignity will be the same place I settle on my own self-worth.