WHAT goes around, comes around. Poverty is not sustainable–for everybody. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the rich are actually better off helping the poor. I’mnot talking about relieving guilty consciences or upholding high moral values. I’m talking about creating and retaining wealth. The rich have better chances of remaining rich by helping the poor. Let’s examine this.
It’s easyto insulate ourselves from the reality of poverty, even though we see kids begging on the streets. These sights have become a part of “normal life.” Our cars becomebubbles, where we sit in the comfort of indifference and apathy. This is not to say that we lack morals. Perhaps this is helplessness morphedinto resignation. But does this come without a cost?
For many living in large cities, what they and the rich see are only the urban poor. One way or the other, we get a glimpse of our cities’ slums–ultra-densely populated, dirty, malodorous, with homes made of re-purposed building materials. Anyone with a nice car, dressed in expensive clothes would dread being stranded in these areas for fear of robbery or assault.
But theseliving conditions may not bethe most challenging part about being poor in city slums. There is much more suffering than meets the eye. Take for example, the daily grind of a hand-to-mouth existence. Imagine the pressure ofselling a few items just to buy tonight’s dinner. That’s the easy part. Feel the helplessness of a young girl silently raped by relatives. Bear the pain of watching a loved one slowly die because the family cannot afford medical care.
Poverty in rural areas is a different story altogether. In really far-flung places, there is just a dearth of everything—jobs, stores, schools, roads, utilities and transportation, to name just the basics. There are many homes with no indoor plumbing. During a long countrysideroad trip, we had to ask a favor from the sari-sari store owner if we could use their toilet. They were so gracious in sharing whatever they had. It was an outhouse made of flimsy natural fiber material. There was no toilet seat, much less a flush. Actually, thefacility had no septic tank; it was just a pit dug in the ground.
For thoseunfamiliar with domestic inconveniences, it may take a while (or never) to get past the annoyance of such living conditionsandactually see beyond the hassle.But those who do, begin to understand what poverty does to the mind and spirit.There are children who have to swim across a river to go to school. Many still live without access to safe wateror electricity.There are still millions of Filipinos who cannot afford a basic meal.
There are twooutcomes of constantly living with hunger, fear, pain and chaos. One is the suppression of any sense of hope, the other isa brew of anger and frustration. The former manifestsas utter lack of motivationfor work or progress. The latter, however, fuels revolutions that demand a change from the status quo. In fact, in democracies across the world, poverty-induced dissent has resulted in the success of anti-establishment movements. The most recent examples for such drastic departures from mainstream politics are Brexitand the victories of President Duterte and President-elect Trump.
The problem with wealth is that it requires peace for it to flourish. War makes everybody poor. Currency and other financial instruments are worthless in times of war. Peace and stability are the foundation for the amenities of comfortable living, such as supermarkets, banks, entertainment, restaurants, quality housing and utilities. The next worse thing is a vote for bad decision. When Brexit prevailed, we saw economic value shrink in record time. The full repercussion of Trump is yet to be grasped.
Poverty and oppression sometimes create an illusion of peace and stability. This emanates from a submission to suffering. But this is not sustainable; because pain and suffering will always seek relief. Anger, discontent, hunger and fear stimulateresistance. Mistaking poverty’s silence for peace is, therefore, very shortsighted.
Gone are the days when people wait generations to protest against poverty and suffering. Democracy legitimizes and empowers a resolution to hunger, fear and anger. Nevertheless, the dangerlies in the vulnerability of the desolate mind.Whoever offerspolitical comfort to the angry gains control of the majority. The problem is that new leadership does notguarantee the end of poverty nor the preservation of wealth.Sustainable development and uplifting the poorthrough quality education, livelihood for mothers or policies that boost the lowest family incomes, may be our best chance for genuine peace. Wealth is sustainable only in the mantle of peace.
Crissie Hontanosas is managing director of AC3S Consulting, a firm dedicated to strengthening sustainable development programsin LGUs and private corporations.More at: www.ac3s.org.