One night as I sat watching a nature documentary about some ugly species of bird (from God knows where), I grasped an interesting insight into animal nature. Between the expected images of birds diligently working to provide for themselves and their families, they suddenly cut to footage of a few immoral, yet cunning birds sneaking around, stealing materials from the nests the other birds had spent all day building.
A few small twigs, bits of dried brush, even the edge of a candy bar wrapper – all stolen and used to build their own homes by the sweat of their neighbors’ backs. Soon, these crafty avians sat by their new shelters smugly satisfied to have saved themselves a lot of hard work.
As the clueless working class birds continued to run to and fro, never suspecting the treason occurring every time they turned their back, I suddenly realized that greed isn’t exclusively a human vice…and that some birds can be real jerks.
On social media and in real life, I hear a lot about how the poor “take advantage” of the system and how they “waste what they have” or are “just plain lazy”. Of course, these comments always seem to come from people who are at least close to middle class and have never once gone truly hungry, been homeless or lost everything they have through some cruel twist of fate. Having grown up in a mostly one-parent family that did accept government and charity assistance on occasion (even though my mother often worked MORE than full time), I see a different perspective.
I will admit that sometimes the things that the impoverished do may indeed contribute to their own problems, but often this is through ignorance or desperation. Often they make rash decisions based on immediate needs and not long-range goals…but that is because they are worried about survival right now and fighting for survival tends to occupy all your attention. When every day of your life is spent wondering how you will eat and find or keep shelter, there is not much energy left for self-help philosophies or economical posturing. Glimmers of hope might break through here or there (a better job, higher education, etc.), but often these desires are washed aside by the necessity of making it through this month, this week or even this day.
I will admit though that on occasion the impoverished may seem to purposefully waste money. Buying a lottery ticket, cigarettes, alcohol or junk food may seem like a huge waste when someone is down to their last dollar. So why do they do it? I think it is like Vincent Van Gogh once observed, they are attempting to “revolt against the misery” of poverty. They are laughing in the face of danger and saying that this miserable world isn’t going to steal every bit of enjoyment from them. It is not really wise, but it is an emotional reaction to a life that often seems to have no hope or end.
Perhaps it is for the same reason that so many employees (even those in low paying management positions) steal from the big, impersonal corporations they serve, even if all they take home is a box of ball point pens or a few rolls of toilet paper. I’m not saying stealing is right, but in the human mind, there is always the desire for the underdog to score a triumph (even a tiny one) over who they see as the big bully on the block. All of these seemingly poor decisions are really just a way for those who feel ignored and despised to give this unfair, greedy world the middle finger. A way to quietly rebel, even if no one notices.