Posts Tagged ‘ Cultures ’

The Colorful Shades of Money.

As individuals immersed in work to fight poverty, we tend to speak in advocacy for the poor. Both authors of this blog have worked in the depths of poverty, with the homeless, unemployed and those who might rely on welfare checks to survive throughout each month. We have been exposed to poverty in one of the riches countries around the world, but have also gone abroad to work with the impoverished and homeless people in developing nations. Just as our blog title states, we see the “colors [indeed shades] of poverty.”

However, I have cause to wonder whether or not we truly see equality on the side of poverty. I obviously do not speak for my co-author, let me be plain in my disclaimer.

First, a history lesson:
I am a member of one of the largest immigrant groups to the US, the Chinese American community. We are the model minority. We are all the shades of yellow from every type of vocation, age, socioeconomic status, gender and upbringing. We have suffered discrimination throughout our experience ever since we first came during the building of the continental railroad. There were no advocates for us then and, as is typical of the Chinese people, we persevered throughout all the roadblocks put in front of us by the White Man. [This is not to say anything about White Americans as they are today, but to simplify detail a fact in history.]

There are newly arrived Chinese Americans, and there are families who have lived here for over 50 years. Regardless of how long an individual has lived in this country, one thing we can never deny is our roots, the traditions and customs that make us Chinese Americans. And yet, there are many rifts among us: young vs old, those born overseas vs those born in USA, those born overseas outside China vs those born in China, etc. The list goes on.

One of our guiding values is that of financial stability due to career success. There are those who have been here for a very long time who have become doctors and lawyers. These are our heroes, the pride of our community; the ones who made it, the ones we expect our children to look up to and to one day become. Some new immigrants do make it. They become the scientists and lawyers and doctors that gives the rest of us hope.

Yet, those are the few and far between. Many unforeseen circumstances erupt to hinder and divert our path in the journey of life, and not all are successful in the pursuit of this goal. As a result, a rift is created between he who gains the success and wealth desired and he who cannot or does not.

My first experiences of this were in college. Granted, most were predominantly White Americans. However, there was a change that was required of me. I was called the “trendsetter” and “prim and proper” and ultimately, the “spoiled rich girl” all simply because I wore nice designer clothes, acted in a way typical of the area in which I grew up, and drove a car that my father bought to force me to drive. Now, in the Silicon Valley where I grew up, those things would not be out of the ordinary…except that most kids love to drive. But in Northern California, things became different. Property taxes, salaries, and the typical standard of living were lower. The culture of the area was also very different; the community as a whole was very dedicated to family life and people enjoyed wilderness activities (kayaking, skiiing, snowboarding, sailing, hiking, etc.) more than the consumerist city life I was attuned to.

And as a result, a sort of majority mentality began to develop: the idea that I was rich, and that it was a bad thing. It was all so strange to me. Me, rich? I guess maybe the Silicon Valley of the Bay can be considered possibly Upper Middle Class in the most extremely affluent of areas. However, I never lived in them or was anything like them. I was always Middle Class. There were always people who struggled more than my family did, and there were always people who we struggled to become more like. I had never considered myself in that manner before.

However, I must say I have never once considered the idea that poor people are better than rich people. NOR have I ever considered that rich people are better than poor people! That sounds ridiculously absurd to me! And yet, there are many people, Chinese and otherwise, that have such ideas. Some believe that poor people are bad and even criminal. Others think the poor put themselves in that position. Some others think that poor people are better than rich people because they are happier. [Let me tell you, they have never met the impoverished with an entitlement complex at social services!] Still others believe that poor people are are a drain on the system.

Where is the equality in these socioeconomic divisions? Where have we gone? How can we be one people when we cannot even agree to look towards one another with a non-judgmental attitude?

I am lucky. I have grown up with a father who lived an impoverished life in a developing nation AND a mother who was the daughter of a wealthy businessman. I am the typical Chinese American, and I have experienced both sides. I am both a hoarder, penny pincher and DIY fanatic while also one who purchases high quality items whether it is clothes, food, furniture or medical services.

People are people. Whether poor or rich, labelling others based upon socioeconomic status is still a focus upon money. Let us not allow the “shades of money” to rule our lives or how we view others. It is important that we see each other as just PEOPLE. Together, we can be people.

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Living Well without Guilt

My pastor told the congregation a few weeks ago in a Sunday evening sermon, “show me how you live and I will tell you what you believe.” It was an assertive statement that was endorsed by several contemplative hmm’s from the pews. As for me, I was impressed with the way he said that basically, worldview leads to behavior. Admittedly, I blush as I confess that what the pastor had said had made me reflect on my lack of integrity in many realms of my life in a way I never really thought before. Usually by comments like these, I feel attacked and tend to disarm such statements so that their validity is gone and I can toss it aside. But this I decided I liked because I think it is a good way to assess one’s beliefs in accordance to one’s lifestyle. The pastor probably wasn’t saying that he will judge our hearts and beliefs by what we do. It was in fact a statement on principle: that a good tree bears good fruit. Likewise, a bad tree bears bad fruit. Some here (myself included) would challenge the definition of “good” fruit—what does it mean to be good? Or better yet, what is bad? Who says so? Why should I live according to someone else’s definitions?

Obviously, not living up to the expectations that others put on us make us all feel guilty at times. In fact, we may not even feel guilty that much because we are constantly trying to avoid that terrible, no good feeling by pleasing others and meeting that certain standard of goodness. Everyone has guilt and that comes from failing a standard that society has put on them. Guilt is an inward sense of wrongdoing or feeling of remorse for a committed offense. Typically those of individualistic cultures, such as the U.S., live out their lives in avoidance of guilt. Those in collectivistic cultures base their lives more around shame—avoidance of dishonoring the family. Living better to protect one’s family and self is not bad, in and of itself. However, if a person is only doing good deeds or restraining from evil deeds in order to avoid guilt and shame (which is trying to meet up with other people’s standards), then this person is not living with real integrity. The only benefit that guilt and shame bring is that they encourage integrity. But when this person decides that what society deems is good and just is against their personal morals, or when the person finds a way to be evil without others ever knowing, then the person is liable to do wrong and never have repentance.

If we lived not to other’s standards, but for goodness, then I think our actions would be more sincere and we would be better people all around. We’d have more integrity! Yes, there is still a standard of goodness—some things are absolutely wrong and cannot be justified—but the difference is in reorganizing the mindset. Don’t live for others so that you won’t feel bad, but live for others so you feel good. Believe in what you do is right and good! If only my students would learn this and study because they know it’s good, not because I tell them it is.

Also, people should not make others feel guilty. Instead, people should take on their own responsibility as a human living in a rapidly depraving world of nearly seven billion other human beings with still more to come. People should be thinkers and doers–people who think before they act. Of course we all make errors (I can still hear my mom say “that’s why they put erasers at the end of pencils”) but that isn’t always an excuse. There are consequences for every mistake, but we shouldn’t live to avoid those, merely. Instead of doing good to avoid the bad, we should just do good for goodness’ sake!