I’ve been thinking a lot about an article I read online recently via the Observer. Its called:
‘Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get
our hearts broken’
It was written by an American called Linda Tirado and was originally penned as a heartfelt response to a question on an online forum asking why poor people do things that seem self destructive. It is not sentimental, not self pitying just a very considered intelligent attempt to explain why people like her do the things that leave them open to criticism and failure to understand from those who are in a better situation in life.
Click here to read the article: ‘Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken’ http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/21/linda-tirado-poverty-hand-to-mouth-extract?CMP=fb_gu
From the article:
‘We all cope in our own special ways. I smoke. My friend drinks. In fact, I’m highly confident in betting that you and many of your friends cope by drinking as well. Come home from a long day at work, and what do you do? Pop open a beer? Or a bag of potato chips? Or maybe you take a Valium when you’re feeling stressed out. Or get a massage. Or go to your gym and sit in the sauna room.
Why are other people’s coping mechanisms better than poor people’s? Because they’re prettier. People with more money drink better wine out of nicer glasses. And maybe they get a prescription for benzodiazepines from their own personal on-call psychiatrist instead of buying a pack of cigarettes. They can buy whatever they like and it’s OK, because retail therapy is a recognised course of treatment for the upper classes. Poor people don’t have those luxuries. We smoke because it’s a fast, quick hit of dopamine. We eat junk because it’s cheap and it lights up the pleasure centres of our brain. And we do drugs because it’s an effective way to feel good or escape something.
I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate from high school. Most people on my level didn’t. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you’ll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they’ll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. If you fuck it up, you could make your family sick.
We have learned not to try too hard to be middle class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up?
We have very few of them.’
Many years ago probably around another pre budget time when the conversation was about people living on social welfare, I listened to a work colleague talking about how cheaply you could live if you really put the effort in. She described how the previous Saturday her brother had cycled from Rathmines to Moore St. where he bought some crubeens or a bacon hock or some other such really cheap part of an animal- and haggled for some vegetables and herbs and fruit, and then cycled back with the basket loaded, to make a nutritious dinner and dessert for lord only knows how many people!
I remember at the time thinking it’s not always that simple…if you have been living in relative poverty for a long time you may not have a bicycle…and even if you had, the kids might not fit in the basket….or it’s a long way to cycle from Roscommon or Donegal to Moore Street… and bus fares are expensive and besides your brain and your self-esteem might be too befuddled with poor quality food and worry about bills and most of all with a lack of hope that you do not have the mental energy to do things like that, even if you had the physical energy.
‘While it can seem like upward mobility is blocked by a lead ceiling, the layer between lower-middle class and poor is horrifyingly porous from above. A lot of us live in that spongy divide.’
And in the fallout from the financial meltdown of the past few years we are all far more aware how easy it is to fall much further than that.
‘Put another way: I’m not saying that someone doesn’t have to scrub the toilets around here. All I’m saying is that maybe instead of being grossed out by the very idea of toilets, you could thank the people doing the cleaning, because if not for them, you’d have to do it your damn self.’
Linda’s story seems to have a happy ending in that as a result of her heartfelt response and its going viral her life has changed and she has now written a book and become pretty famous as well as being a much needed voice for poor people everywhere.
I’m buying the book.