Saturday, March 8, 2014

Why Do the Poor Make Us Feel Uncomfortable?

In Korea, says the bishop writing on religion and economics in the Korean Times, we need not go back beyond one generation to see the poverty that was experienced. 

We all know that there were many more poor people a few years ago than we have now. Rag-pickers would be rummaging through the dumps, aimless people would be wandering the streets, beggars would be everywhere. But they were our neighbors and our friends.  We went to the same schools, played marbles and cards with them in the streets. When a grandmother would leave her house with a heavy load on her head, someone from the community would soon appear to offer help.

There were times when someone from the community would  beg for food. They would not be turned away even though it was giving them some cold rice.  It was unheard of that anyone would die of hunger or freeze to death. Sharing was one of our values and compassion was shown to those having difficulty making their way in life.

How is it today? To start with, we don't even know our  neighbors. Not too long ago, we considered that near-neighbors were  better to have around than distant cousins, but today we are likely to study the expressions on our neighbor's face before engaging them in conversation. And it is not uncommon to have serious fights over trifling matters. 

The problem, many believe, is the impact of our highly competitive economic system on our human value system. Up until a few years ago we didn't classify people by what they possessed nor would it determine how we would react with another person. What was it that changed the way we responded? What caused us to see them as non-persons? The hungry, the thirsty, the poorly dressed, the vagrant, the prisoners, are routinely seen as non-persons, as surplus people, as burdens to society, and even seen as public enemies.

Because of the feeling of uncomfortableness they were making others feel,  a few of the poor would hide their whereabouts  from the rest of us. Even the ordinary folk without realizing it were influenced by this kind of thinking, and came to see the poor as a burden to be shunned and ignored. The poor, feeling the stigma, began to look for out-of-the-way places to live, often winding up in the darkness of ghettos. 

Was it that suddenly the personalities and genes of many of our citizens changed?  Why was it that those we considered our neighbors were no longer seen as such but were considered burdens, useless and surplus people? This was not only true in society at large, but we have seen it also in our churches, which has brought many tears to our eyes.

During the time of the International Monetary Fund relief, many of our neighbors disappeared from sight. We all remember those days. We have to reflect if we should accept some of the blame for their leaving our communities. When we do not see the poor who are living among us, it is a sure sign the world is not getting better, but a sign we are not living close enough to the love that Jesus came to show us.

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