Expectations, needs, desires, wealthy, poor, and so on

I woke up this morning thinking about rich, poor, our society, etc., and followed that up by a chapter in Oliver Twist! 

Our society’s perception of “poor” is quite interesting. While a family of 7 like ours can exist in a pretty small space just fine, it is assumed that a family needs a large living space and many comforts. But, on the other hand, if that family can’t afford those things then of course they don’t deserve them, even though somewhere in our society’s mind they need them. This creates an odd circumstance, where a family is looked down upon by a society for not providing what that society says they need, even though the reality may be that a family does not need those things at all! Our country is wealthy enough that the poor are pretty lucky here. Most of what Dickens just described couldn’t even go on here, because of our health laws, building codes, and so on. What is missing in our country is not more money for the poor, but more respect. Actually just less attention generally. So what if a family has a smaller place to live, holes in clothes, and so forth? Why do we assume they need to rise to a certain standard of living, and then criticize them for not having the money to do it? Fascinating.

I’ve always loved the sense in south-of-campus Provo that you can be poor without being lower-class. That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking about this morning. 

Also, it is interesting that God gives to some people to be wealthy and some to be poor. I read in the D&C that this shouldn’t be, and that we should be equal. But God himself gives more to some and less to others. Why, then? I am thinking of D&C 46 where everyone is given spiritual gifts but for the purpose of blessing the Church. And we’re even told to seek after the best gifts. We’re told to pray to have the Spirit when we teach. We’re told to ask for them, and we’re told that every man will receive some, and many will receive many. But always for the blessing of others and not to “consume it on their lusts.” I wonder if we could see money the same way. God blesses this person with monetary blessings, that person with other sort of financial blessings, that other person with an inheritance, or whatever. Others he doesn’t bless with money, but talents that could bless a community in other ways that would enrich lives in a day-to-day way.The expectation may be that these people will use their gifts to bless each other. In fact, Jacob says that you can receive more wealth if you seek it, just like we are told to seek after best gifts. But, says Jacob, you should use that wealth to bless others. (So, it would seem pretty silly to gain wealth by taking advantage of other people. Corruption would cause the very problems that your gift of wealth was supposed to fix!) 

Is that to say that every wealthy person should just hand out their money to everyone else? No, probably not. I think there would be an expectation of wisdom and prayer as well. Also, I can’t help but assume that God wants us humble, and just giving out money so that everyone lives an upper-class lifestyle is probably exactly backwards from what he has in mind (sorry to be guessing what He has in mind, hopefully it’s ok I’m doing this thought-experiment). I imagine all of us could live a lot more simply, and then there would be plenty left over to put towards community endeavors or the arts or health improvements, etc. I think unfortunately when we think of the wealthy giving to the poor we jump right back to the double assumptions I mentioned at the first. Society assumes that everyone needs to have a comfortable, upper-class life, but also assumes that anyone who can’t provide this on their own doesn’t deserve to have it. Therefore we unfortunately picture the wealthy outfitting lower-class families with things they don’t deserve and won’t appreciate. 

And perhaps that’s true — perhaps they don’t deserve or won’t appreciate all that the wealthy has. But what about things they actually do need, rather than what society says every person should desire to have? That’s maybe a better way to put it. Society says we should all desire the upper-class lifestyle. But that is not need, that is desire. Unfortunately the poor are criticized for not working hard enough to have what the upper-class desires. But what about need? As I’m typing, I’m realizing that probably a far better plan for the wealthy helping the poor is via social institutions which distribute basic needs and also using their influence in society to make sure there are laws about building codes and health codes that allow the poor the right to have their needs in order. 

(And are there poor to think that the wealthy should give them an upper-class life? Yes, I’ve seen it. Where does that greed come from? In part, it might come from the same myth of society already mentioned, that they need to have a certain lifestyle. If they think it’s a need, then they come to the conclusion they do deserve it, regardless of their efforts. Obviously there are problems here! But I think it actually begins from the same lie told by rich and poor alike: that we ought to desire a certain comfortable, upper-class lifestyle. It’s just that they don’t have the other side of the coin that the rich have, where people don’t deserve it unless they’ve earned it. But I think the greedy are giving into a lie — and yes, most probably do recognize that it’s a lie — that they deserve to live a high-class life. And also, that they’ll only be happy if they do. That’s an assumption too many have, rich or poor, don’t you think? Nod here to Fiddler On the Roof: “They’re as poor as squirrels in winter. But they’re so happy, they don’t know how miserable they are.” 🙂 It’s an adorable quotation, but I think it points out that the poor can assume that they deserve happiness, and that they will be happier if they are richer. Is that true? Well, a question for us each to answer I suppose.)

And anyway, really there are thousands, no, uncountable other ways to use wealth or other gifts to bless people. Directly or indirectly, known or anonymous, individual or community: the task is to use whatever we have both wisely and prayerfully, I think.

I am grateful for my apartment, which has all the space I think we need, which I know is actually more than most families have ever had in the history of our earth. I am grateful for our abundant food, of all kinds! I am grateful for sales at stores that allow me to clothe our family very well. We really do have sufficient for our needs, unlike so many on this planet, and I am very grateful for that!

Now the question to us is probably the same to everyone: what are we going to do with what God has given us?


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