Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day-Poverty's Neighbor

A man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
"Which ones?" the man inquired.
Jesus replied, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and your mother, and 'love your neighbor as yourself'."
"All these things I have kept," the young man said. "What do I lack?"
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

(Matthew 19:19-22)

I have a new camera that has a very nice zoom lens. I can get up close, with the macro setting on, and zero in on a flower, an insect, a unique stone or fungi, and the viewer of such a picture can focus on that item, marveling at it without the distraction of it's surroundings.

When I am in a reflective mood, examining my place in the world, I tend to focus in closely. What is my position in my family? My workplace or neighborhood? It's very rare that I assess my position in a context broader than that. In an election year such as this one, I might think a bit about my role as a citizen of my community, my state and my country, but, really, not much. It's a difficult perspective to grasp.

Recently, I was exposed to an interesting website called the Global Rich List. The site gives you an opportunity to plug in your income and compare it to the rest of the world, calculating your percentile rank by income. Though my family lives modestly, firmly in the middle of the middle class in the U.S., my percentile rank compared to the rest of the world was .91%. In other words, our family is wealthier than more than 99% of the world's population.

It rocked me back on my heels a bit to find that out. It was a wide-angle view of my place in the world, in which I am very, very tiny. Microscopic, even.

I needed some way to see my position in the human race using some comprehensible middle lens. Eventually, I stumbled on to this:

"If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following. There would be:

57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both North and South America
8 Africans

52 would be female
48 would be male

70 would be nonwhite
30 would be white

70 would be non-Christian
30 would be Christian

6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and all 6 would be from the United States
80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be near death
1 would be near birth (ready to deliver)
1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
1 would own a computer"*

So, in this model, I am a white female, from the Western Hemisphere, a Christian, and one of those six outrageously wealthy Americans. I am well nourished and comfortably housed. As far as anyone can know, I am not near death. I am not due to deliver a child. I have a college degree, and I own a computer (actually, there are three in our home).

There is no one in this village of one hundred people who is even remotely as fortunate as I am. I have more, in every respect- health, education, material goods, spiritual life, status conferred on me by race and place, than every single other person in this village. Surrounding me in this village are many, many people who are illiterate, homeless, starving. Right there, in my village of one hundred people. The place where I, as a Christian, am to love my neighbor.

The challenge is to never forget that. The challenge is to leverage that knowledge of my good fortune for the good of my fellow villagers.

Now that I have this perspective, it's time to zoom back in. On them.

*Philip M Harter, MD, FACEPStanford University, School of Medicine


Rose said...

Joyce, I saw your post urging everyone to write about poverty today, and I thought about doing it later. I feel rather selfish writing about garden blooms now after reading your thought-provoking post. This is a real eye-opener!
How often have I complained about my less than professional camera or my computer that still isn't working or some other trivial thing. And so what if my 401k is losing money--I slept in a comfortable bed last night with a full stomach, which is more than billions of people did. Thanks for making us all stop and think.

Joyce said...

Thanks, Rose. Those stats are eye-opening, arent' they? I know what you mean about the complaining about little irritations. I do it constantly, at least in my mind, and totally fail to recognize how wealthy I am. Now, I'm trying to think how best to get some resources to the people who need it the most.

Donna said...

Those numbers are certainly eye-popping! It's humbling to realize how much we have compared to the rest of the world.

I'm really glad you wrote this post today. I was going to write one for my blog and then life got in the way and it didn't happen. This has been a hard week, and so it's good to put it into a larger perspective.

Joyce said...

Donna, I just tonight wrote out these statistics and posted them (don't laugh!) on the wall of my bathroom, where I will see them several times a day. I hope it gives perspective daily.