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There is a post going around on Facebook. It features a comic on two men, one rich and one poor. The poor man asks, “Why am I poor while others around me are so rich?”
To answer his question, the rich man is stripped of his wealth and they are both sent to work at a carwash. They are given equal salaries: RM5 for each car they wash.
The comic goes on to explain how the rich man saves and makes money by ‘being more active [in car washing]’, ‘eating bread (while the poor man eats well)’, ‘hiring other people,’ and ‘investing’.
It’s an easy set of graphics to keep you complacent, to keep you thinking that poverty is poor people’s fault, that all you need to do to come into money is work hard and smart.
Here is the truth: this is not so easy to do.
When you are poor your money goes anywhere but in your savings.
All of these are essential: rent, public transport, bills, food.
And even if you retain a couple of hundred that month: guess what, emergencies! A sick child, an accident, the loss of a job sucks up what little you manage to save.
What are you meant to invest?
You work all day, all week, all month, weekends and whatever extra shifts you can pick up, and nothing changes.
There is always something else. There are people depending on you. You are exhausted, you just need a good night’s sleep, your energy flags. It never ends.
You’re so tired you don’t manage to work as hard, to wash as many cars. Your income lessens. You dip into the little you have saved just to keep surviving. It’s a vicious cycle.
For some motivation, for some light in your life, you eat a nice meal. Instead of bread every night, you eat out, or buy a cup of bubble tea.
You need the sugar, you need that quiet moment of indulgence, you need – like anybody who is human – something nice once in a while to keep going.
When you do that people rush to point fingers at it. They rush to say that this, this act of being so very human, this is the reason why you’re poor and will continue to be.
And so it goes.
In real life, if the rich man in the comic is truly stripped of everything – including a home he owns, a car he can drive, business connections, even family who are well-off – he, in all likelihood, would not find it so easy to build himself up again.
A more realistic ending of the story would probably be the rich man demanding his money back: “How,” he would probably ask, “am I meant to be rich with such an unfair start?”
So before you see someone suffering from poverty, before you say they should just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” before you tell yourself that in their shoes you would do better for yourself…
Reach into yourself for some empathy.
Try, even if it makes you uncomfortable to realise the inequality in the world, to understand the structures that keep people in poverty, and why and how they exist.
It’ll make you a better person. At the very least, you’ll think before sharing that next Facebook post.
For more opinion pieces like this, read: Taking a Closer Look At The Forgotten Families of Buntong, Ipoh and Feeling The Burnout? No Worries… Time To Live Like No One Is Looking.