Poverty's a big word. It's not that long or even particularly difficult to pronounce. But, it's heavy and has various meanings throughout the world.
But, it's crucial that we begin to understand it if we're going to be so bold as to fight it.
There's a long list of upper class do-gooders who have tried to do their part to make a difference, give back, and help out. They've written checks at elegant galas or raised funds from well-meaning corporations all in an attempt to placate an every growing problem. But, a lot of these attempts merely put band-aids on an ever-festering wound that needed immediate and intense surgery to remedy.
Others of us who aren't living in the upper echelons of society want to make a difference as well. We see the homeless man asking for change outside of the post office, we see the woman with the cardboard sign as we pump our gas, and we hear stories of countless others who are down on their luck, out of a job, and just a few dollars away from death.
The most compassionate among us reach for a quarter or maybe even a five-dollar bill, praying our kindness won't be wasted on booze or meth, and that our giving can result in someone else's getting to where they need to be until they can be a little better off – a little more like us.
But what if, instead of hoping and helping someone to be like us, we became like them?
There are a few programs and immersion experiences that allow individuals – mainly college students – to spend a weekend or a week living on the streets. Just like the forgotten segments of our society, these people eschew the modern conveniences that we all take for granted and sleep on concrete, beg for change, and hope they'll have enough to eat.
While admirable and insightful, many of us don't need to go that far. Indeed, many of us can't go that far. We simply don't have the time or the courage to do what it takes to truly know what it's like to be one of them.
And so, faced with a decision of all or nothing, we choose nothing and go back to having it all – a big house, a huge TV, more food than we'll ever eat and more comfort than we deserve. We'll store the thought of being like them deep in our minds, allowing it only to surface the next time we offer a hand out in an attempt to make them like us.
Or, perhaps we could temper our own temptation to be more like us and allow ourselves to be a little less like us and a little more like them. Perhaps, we could live below our income to see what life's really like for a lot of Americans. Perhaps we could take a vow of intentional poverty in an effort to live simply so that others may simply live.
We could buy less stuff and junk that we'll only end up tossing out in a few months.
We could get rid of satellite TV and use the money to buy meals at a local homeless shelter.
We could downsize our homes and get by with as little as possible.
We could throw off the shackles of our digital tools that promise convenience but instead take our attention and focus that attention on getting those living in poverty the tools they need to succeed.
We could buy things used and improve our environmental impact.
We could sponsor the dreams of someone else.
Because we all want the rags-to-riches story. But a lot of us find ourselves in neither camp. We didn't come from rags and we certainly don't have riches. So, what's a girl or guy to do when they want the Cinderella story to come true in their own life?
The answer is simple: Be the fairy godmother.
There are ample chances out there for all of us to work a little magic and help make the dreams of budding inner-city entrepreneurs some true. With a little sacrifice on our part, we can provide the tools and skills needed for many individuals to work their way up the ladder and out of the cycle of poverty. We can do what we must in order to give others what they need.
And it all starts with out ability to understand the situation of another, by living a life of intentional poverty.