The things that make us uncomfortable…

There is power in things that make us uncomfortable. Sometimes they are the shadow element, the big bad wolf in the fairy tale, the predator that we run away from. In that situation they have power over us, but there is another kind of power too: the power of transformation.

For a long time I didn’t want to think about poverty. In my food research I wanted to focus only on the positive: healthy food, community food, local food… I didn’t want to think about corporations, exploitation, corruption, starvation, pesticides, additives, genetic modification, and so on. I figured there was enough focus on the problem. I wanted to focus on solutions, I still do, but one of the things I didn’t want to think about at all was poverty, and lately I can’t stop thinking about it.

Poverty is a wicked problem, that is, a problem with so many compounding factors that there is no simple solution. I didn’t want to think about food scarcity or hunger, only about abundance and how to create it in healthy, sustainable ways, but there is so much ignorance about poverty and so many frustratingly common ridiculous social prejudices that I can’t stop thinking about it.

Underneath all this there is an unearthing or my own childhood relationship with scarcity and powerlessness. When I was growing up there was always poverty around. For us, as a single parent family when I was very young and as a large blended family when I was a bit older, there was the ordinary struggle with finances, with scarcity, and so on, but, even though I had blood-sugar issues that made me often feel like I was starving, and even though I was neglected to the point of not always having lunch at school, we were okay. We were relatively privileged compared to the people around us – at the school we went to and in our wider family. My experiences of poverty through family and school were difficult and ugly. The overwhelming powerlessness tangled with my other childhood traumas into the psychological wound that was painful to touch. I didn’t want to think about it, but now I do.

The “Why don’t they just…” attitude to poverty is really pissing me off. The negative response that vulnerable people often get when they stand up for themselves makes me sick. There is no simple solution here. If there was, people would have figured it out by now. If it was simply a matter of choice, people wouldn’t so easily damn themselves by “making bad choices”, would they? No one wants to live like that.

I feel compelled to raise awareness of the complexities of these related problems. People who have never experienced this extreme powerlessness seem to have trouble relating and, therefore, little empathy. To me, this feels like personal transformation through the shadow.

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