Will we ever see poverty made history?


All We Can’s Communications Intern, Zoë Carruthers, thinks about why poverty is still an issue in 2018.

When I am asked a question, I like to be honest. My immediate reaction to the question, ‘Will we ever see poverty made history?’ is no. The reason behind my response is simple, I don’t believe we have the right attitude towards poverty in order to make it history.

Research by Bond showed that there are three main reasons people don’t engage with international poverty relief. This research suggests we:

1.Are cynical of development
2.Feel distant from the people that live in poverty
3.See charity work as futile.

Reflecting on this list, I wanted to know why we have allowed ourselves to feel this way about helping others. What has blocked the natural human instinct to act when we see people in need that would enable poverty to be made history?

My conclusion is that we have been told how to think about poverty. We have been told how to think about poverty through the various ways that poverty has been presented to us. Labels have been attached to poverty that are then reinforced by charity adverts, the news and television shows. When confronted with an image of someone living in a desperate situation we no longer see the person for who they are, we automatically attach ‘poverty labels’. We see another person suffering, another helpless being. We tell ourselves that we cannot intervene because there is simply nothing more that can be done. We feel overwhelmed by the scale of it all. We have been exposed to so much ‘helplessness’ that we feel helpless ourselves.

But again I will be honest, how ridiculous is it that we have justified not acting because we are overexposed to the problem? When someone confides in us with a problem we would never look at them and say, “I’ve heard of this problem too many times, you’ve defeated me and I won’t help you.” Rather, we have comfort with familiarity, when faced with a common problem we know how to act and what to say. So why is it when the label of ‘poor’ is put before the word ‘person’ we don’t know what to do? We need to recognise that poverty cannot define a person.

In the Bible, we see this message staring us in the face. A classic example is the story of the Good Samaritan. If the priest that crossed the road removed the labels he made against the Jewish traveller in need he would’ve helped. Jesus sets the standard for us. Unlike the priest, Jesus did not define people using societal labels. Jesus challenged the labels made against disadvantaged members of society by acting. He saw those in need, and he acted through love, not labels. It is this example of love in action that so many Christians use as a source of inspiration today.

Jesus acted through love, not labels

In the Bible, we read that Jesus makes a reference to a passage in Deuteronomy and it struck me as poignant where the word ‘poor’ is placed. The passage comes from Deuteronomy 15 v 7 – 8, and says:

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”

It says, “…your brother should become poor…” I want to stress that the word brother came first, and the word poor came second. The verse later uses poor brother, and I think that is because of what the brother then becomes defined as by his economic status. The verse encourages us to give what we can to our brother that becomes poor. This applies to our brothers and sisters all around the world that have become poor. Remember that the word brother came first. First and foremost people are brothers and sisters, not the label that has been cast upon them.

So what can be done for our brothers and sisters? Can we see poverty made history? In order to help others and achieve this goal, we must act. We must act in how we label our brothers and sisters, so that it does not prevent us from sharing love. We must act in how we understand poverty, people are not asking for handouts, they are striving for the same goals in life that we all have – food security, job security and a future for their children. Once we realise we are no position to label others, taking action becomes a lot easier, and poverty will become a lot closer to becoming history.

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