Poverty has always been a relative word in a very slanted and gray world. A challenge, not often highlighted in the non-profit arena, is the difficulty of effectively communicating to Americans the true meaning of that opaque word. Especially in our current time of economic recession, many Americans have adopted the attitude of ‘’the world needs to take care of itself for a while, we can’t do it all.” It seems easy for people to rationalize and claim, “Why should I worry about Africa when we have people starving in our own country?” Even more basic than the need for nutrition is the necessity of clean drinking water. The fact that over one billion people still are being denied clean water, should not happen in a world where our poor sit and watch infomercials of children dying on color TVs.
In an enlightening New York Times article written by Catherine Rampell, she writes, “American’s bottom…is still richer than most of the world: That is, the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants…America’s poorest are, as a group, about as rich as India’s richest.” America, even in our darkest times, is still the Disney Land of the world and Americans have the responsibility to share their happiness-birthright with the rest. World Bank Economist, Branko Milanovicg’s in his book, The Have and the Have-Nots, writes, “It is easy to see that in such a world, most of one’s lifetime income will be determined at birth.”
Americans have a deeper seeded issue to overcome than poverty and it is the problem of compassion fatigue. We are so bombarded by requests, footage, and faces with no reality or realness, no touchability or experience that the information just bounces off our foreheads. It is true that America does donate and step-in to intervene often, there is an honor of humanity that resides in our borders, but there is so much disconnection when it comes to poverty; America has a hard time wrapping its collective mind around it and if we don’t understand it, we won’t try to stop it.
When celebrities travel to other countries, these sweethearts of society, these elite, our most privileged, they often go back. They become a voice, a face for a cause. No one has been more disconnected from poverty than Hollywood. Perhaps if you have just seen you can look away, but if you have touched you’ll never leave.
Mother Teresa said, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” Maybe America’s problem isn’t poverty, or lack of goodness, it is simply disconnection, too much protection. How do you get a society to understand that thousands of poor people are dying because they don’t have clean water to drink when our poor are standing in a Circle K trying to decide between Voss and Fiji?