Why do we have a problem with the term privileged?
Why do we have such visceral reactions to people in poverty?
Why are so frustrated with poor people?
Why do we despise efforts to aid those in need by putting them down as lazy?
Why do we feel the need to point out all that we have done and clamor for that which we deserve?
I think it is because we are jealous.
I grew up the youngest of five boys. They are 4, 8, and 12 years older than I am. So they got to do a lot of things that I did not get to do.
Which was totally unfair.
Why should they get to go out and stay up late on school nights just because they were in high school? Certainly a snotty little first grader should be afforded the same rights and privileges as a 12th grader!
Interestingly enough, my brothers probably felt like I was able to do things at an earlier age. (This is an assumption, not a verified fact.) I do know that I had my own stereo in my room at a younger age than my brothers did. As the youngest, it is possible that I was able to get away with things that my older brothers were not able to get away with.
So while I was jealous of them, it is quite possible they were jealous of me, as well.
I cannot drink alcohol. If I do, I will have a reaction that will cause me to keep drinking until all sorts of bad things happen. Other people, my wife included, can enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time. They can drink just one. In fact, they can even start one and not finish it! This is a completely foreign concept to me.
There are times that sitting in a restaurant or at a friend’s house in the presence of others can stir up feelings of jealousy within me. Not because I want to drink. I am jealous because I can’t drink. (If this does not make sense to you, please ask me to try and explain better.)
Sometimes, our jealousy is not a feeling of, “I want to have what you have.” Instead, it is a feeling of, “I can’t have what you have, and I think that’s unfair.”
So we react negatively to being told about our privilege. We claim that we do not benefit from privilege, we are only reaping the benefits of the hard work we have put it. And while many of us have worked very hard, it is dishonest to not acknowledge the advantages many of us were born with.
So we react negatively to poor people. We are upset with their panhandling. We are upset with food stamps and other benefits. We are upset they are not working and we think they should just clean up and get a job.
We are jealous because we have responsibilities and it seems unfair to us that we have to go about our daily routines while those enduring poverty do not. (Never mind that we overlook how difficult it is to live in poverty, but that is another post for another day.)
So what is the answer? How do we move past our jealousy, acknowledge our privilege, and then partner with those in our midst who are mired in generational poverty?
By partnering and serving.
Yesterday my preacher, Jonathan Storment, shared this quote from Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor:
“In the Christian story the antagonist is not non-Christians but the reality of sin, which (as the gospel tells us) lies within us as well as within them. And so we are likely to be on firm footing if we make common ground with non-Christians to do work to serve the world. Christians’ work with others should be marked by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation.”
If sin is at the core of a person’s poverty (and in most cases it is not), then the solution is to battle the sin, not the person. If a broken system is at the core of a person’s poverty (and it most cases it is), then the solution is to battle the system, not the person.
Our call is to serve the world and the people who live in it. Instead of allowing jealousy to separate us from others, let us remember that we are all God’s children and we all have a common task. Humble cooperation and respectful provocation will do much more to bring about solutions to a broken system than jealousy ever could.