Middle Class Experience of Poverty
health / disability issues |
Sunday October 21, 2007 22:49 by Seosamh an Chnoic
Defeatist binary belief systems and poverty
How an irish middle class person's ideological beliefs led him to a life of poverty, and how he found his way out of that dark wood.
Middle Class Poverty
You know things have changed in your life when you find mould growing on your wallet. You no longer have money in your account, so you no longer carry your cards around. You forget what your wallet feels like. Then one day you do take it out. There’s mould on it. You say to yourself, “Mmmm, I’ve hit a high point.”
There are other little indicators too…..like when through lack of money you find yourself getting used to doing odd things, and then not even being aware of them anymore, till one day you get a bit of perspective, and realise, “Jesus, I’m odd.”
Its an oddness that reminds you of odd people you used to stare at when you were younger, when with your fresh young mind, you wondered why certain older people did certain things, like drive around a car with a leaking roof or a roaring exhaust, or a broken door handle. You like to play football but you play in your shoes, shoes with holes in them. You haven’t had a pair of football boots since about 10 years.
There are interesting sides to it too. Like realising that you don’t actually need shaving foam to shave. Ordinary soap will do. Or using the back of a saucepan cover as a mirror.
I’m one of those middle class people who always had a relatively easy life. We weren’t wealthy growing up, but we rarely experienced real lack. There were not expensive cars or holidays, but always enough food on the table, money for school, books, nights out etc.
Our parents worked very hard, but we ourselves never really actually got to understand the meaning of hard work. The ethos of this background was for us to go on to third level. Those were the class aspirations. And that’s what we did. It would be a ticket to relative ease and comfort. We were the more educated & intelligent, moving out of our rural town, into the city, to get ahead.
But we went onto third level, just as the economy was turning around. So while we were drinking our grant money with our mates and shifting our friend’s friends at University, many of those left behind at home, were actually out in the real world, seeing opportunity, working hard and becoming wealthy during the ‘boom’ years of Ireland’s economic turnaround.
From day one, I had developed the mentality that money was bad, the root of all evil. I would never do ANYTHING for money, I said to myself. My motives would be pure. I was part of the ‘grunge’ generation. 15 or 16 years old, our psyches had endured the empty commercial pop soundtrack that accompanied the Reagan & Thatcher era, when suddenly the Seattle group NIRVANA burst on the scene with a different soundtrack, which reflected the passion and spirit that lived inside us all.
The revived the 60s ideas that we could change the world, and we could do it by singing about it or dressing differently!!!! Ha ha. It was revealing, years later, to actually read the published diaries of Cobain, and see just how political his (confused) thinking was at times: “…..infiltrate the mechanics of the system to start the rot from the inside…..” The music would be like a Trojan Horse…..just as we had intuited at the time, this was about more than just music.
The system was wrong. It had to be changed. You could have no truck with it. Any jobs within it you might possibly do, would only compromise you. Anyone working within it were compromised. I looked on, from above, superior, righteous, with my political integrity intact, living in ever poorer circumstances.
Spending the next 10 years reinforcing this THEM and US mentality within me, from a background of relative comfort, I arrived at a position where I had gradually excluded more and more options from my life, and so came to experience poverty. A relative poverty, obviously, compared to other people in Ireland or in ‘developing’ countries, but real poverty nonetheless. A lack, the absence of options, the inability to do things you like.
Finally the penny, yes, dropped. Depression, growing bitterness, lack of options. Finally I was growing up, and gaining the realisation that life actually involves HARD WORK, and that much of my years of pious politicking was merely distracting myself from that fact. I needed to get off my ass, make an effort, and stop blaming the system.
These days I have completely rebuild my belief system. I now believe we are each responsible for our states. Sure, social injustice exists, it must be fought, deep fundamental change must be brought about. But do I know all the answers? No. Is everyone else wrong? No.
My past poverty was largely caused by my adherence to a binary, defeatist political ideology, that completely de-motivated my from any form of positive action.
Is that just non-committal fear posing as commitment? No. I’m just as committed now, more actually, because now, I’m actually going to follow up my commitment with action. Because now action IS possible. I no longer undermine my own potential for action with my own belief system. My actions are not continually being undermined by doubts about how ideologically pure they are, or whether, they’re being compromised by collaborators with the system.
I am responsible for my energy levels, my committment, my drive, my own aspirations. Not the system, not George Bush, not Bertie Ahern, not Hugo Chavez or Che Guevarra.