A Member of the 1%

This week, I was once again confronted with the fact that I am part of the world’s 1%. I sometimes forget it, but two incidents this week reminded me that I am, indeed, incredibly wealthy by international standards.

1. I’ve had ongoing problems with my Achilles’ tendons for several months, and I decided to visit the physiotherapy department at Bumrungrad Hospital. Bumrungrad is one of the best international hospitals in the world, and people fly in from all over the world for treatment. In spite of this pedigree, their prices are reasonable, at least to someone accustomed to paying Canadian prices for physio. The hospital is located in Bangkok’s core, and I took the BTS (sky train) to get there. As I walked towards the hospital, I noticed quite a few beggars, some who were missing limbs, others who were clutching babies. I was struck by the irony that I was walking to a medical centre that caters to the rich, to receive treatment for a sports injury (something that only impacts my recreational activities), when the people surrounding me could barely afford to eat. It was jarring, and I wasn’t sure how to respond.

2. Several of the teachers at Todd’s school ran an extra-curricular activity for a group of high school students. The students were divided into three groups, and each group was given a different amount of cardboard to build themselves “houses” to sleep in overnight. The largest group was given the smallest number of boxes, the medium group was given a medium number, and the smallest group was given the largest number of boxes. Even though the smallest group had many boxes left over when they finished building their “houses,” they didn’t offer any to the other groups. Instead, they used them to “prettify” their houses, and even threw some in the garbage. I was not present for this activity, but hearing it recounted* hit home.

I worked with Calgary’s homeless population for 7 years, and I’ve lived in cities that are far more impoverished than Bangkok, places such as Kathmandu and Kolkata. I know all the academic answers regarding poverty: “don’t give to beggars, because it only contributes to the problem. Besides, half of them are controlled by “bosses” who take any money that they collect. Give to an organization instead.” There is truth in all of these statements.

However, I don’t think that intellectual answers let me off the hook. The words of Jesus make me think that He wouldn’t be impressed with rationalizations. He didn’t ignore beggars, and He didn’t try to avoid discomfort. I don’t think that this translates into always giving money to beggars – sometimes (perhaps often) there are good reasons not to give money. Sometimes money increases the problems, and sometimes, it gives us an easy out – a way to ease our guilty consciences – without addressing the deeper causes of poverty. I think Jesus’ challenge was not to mindlessly give money, but to truly “see” people, and to show compassion.

Practically, I don’t know how this should impact my life, although I’m trying to learn. I’m starting to suspect, though, that “feeling better” or being more comfortable with poverty should not be my primary goal, or even a goal at all. Poverty should make me uncomfortable. Perhaps discomfort is one of the privileges connected with membership in the 1%.

*Thank-you, Wes.

6 thoughts on “A Member of the 1%

  1. Thank you, Ruth. I was in need of a reminder of the blessings I have been given and the responsibilities I have because of this.

  2. this is a good blog post. though I do question whether it really is just 1% I have met some pretty well off people in some pretty poor countries.

    • That’s a good point. Perhaps it is higher than 1%, and I definitely did not mean to infer that there are not rich Thai people in Bangkok – there are heaps.

  3. I’ve been thinking about how to anewsr some of your questions. I think I am ready to try. But first, a couple comments:1) What he did was not very nice. Maybe he should change his stage name to Not 9ice?2) I detected some hypocrisy. I noticed that he thanked God. If so, he might do well to think of what God would think of him dismissing a child, or anyone else, asking for food.Now to anewsr your questions.However, this begs the question, how many of us, average individuals, give money to those who ask? And, how often?I admit it, I have not given every time I was asked. In this sense, I also suffer from the hypocrisy I mentioned above. I don’t always give money because I worry it will be used for things that will not necessarily benefit the recipient, like drugs (including alcohol and cigarettes). As for giving money to kids, I don’t do it. Why? Because it entrenches their situation. I saw this in Abuja, kids being sent out to beg by adults who refused to send them to school and did not take adequate care of them. I did, however, make an effort to buy kids food. I didn’t do it as often as I should have, though. I regret this immensely. So, I try to help out, but need to do it more often.Also, is 9ice or anyone required to give money to those who ask it? If so, why?I wouldn’t say required, but I would suggest that we have a responsibility and a moral obligation to help people in need of assistance. Whether this is achieved by directly giving someone food or money when they ask for it or making donations to charitable and non-profit organizations that provide services and support to those with low or no income, like food banks, shelters, and NGOs. Why? In a word: Ubuntu. We ought to help others because not doing so shames us all. Would I like it if I asked someone for help and he/she refused me? No. Every time I refuse someone else I am setting myself up for receiving similar poor treatment at some stage of the game, which I suppose you could say is the concept of Karma. Or, to quote the scriptures, “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” GALATIANS 6: 7-9 (KJV)In short, those of us who can, should. And, as a Ghanaian acquaintance of mine was given to pointing out, “it’s nice to be nice”. I really enjoy 9ice’s music so, for his sake, I hope he gets wise to this philosophy and implements it the next time someone asks him for help. I will try to do the same.

What do you think? I dig discussion!

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