The television commercial brays, “GET UP TO $10,000 LOAN WITH 30-DAYS INTEREST FREE!!!” I am amazed that people who have no money to pay bills actually avail themselves of these loans! In 30 days they are unable to repay the loan and then become locked into a vampiric system which sucks their life dry of options! There seems to be a proliferation of these Payday and Car Title loan commercials and they have caused me to reflect upon the issue of poverty.
The 2012 Census Bureau states that the official poverty rate has fallen from 19% to 15%, and that while in 1966 28.5% of Americans ages 65 and older were poor the 2012 Census shows that now just 9.1% are poor, a significant drop due to Social Security. Where previously there were two-parent incomes, now only 38.9% families find both husband and wife bringing in income. A lack of higher education has also been shown to adversely affect income.
And yet, there is an aspect about poverty that concerns me much more and which these figures do not address. There is an impoverishment much more soul-killing than the lack of money, and that poverty arises out of our western culture’s narcissistic, me-centric mindset. Our children are being raised to think that they are the center of the universe, that others cannot demand compliance of them, and that the primary issue is that they “have rights!” Even though one might be able to pay the bills, with such a mindset one cannot live a fulfilling life since that which marks us humans as different from animals… are life-enhancing values.
Hawaiian culture has a different take on all of this. Whereas western culture emphasizes entitlement, Hawaiian culture emphasizes kuleana, one’s responsibility to the society of which one finds oneself a member, and haahaa, an attitude of humility to counter narcissism. Hawaiian culture stresses malama, taking care, taking care of others, caring for preservation of a valued culture. Malama even extends to picking up trash when one comes across it! Malama is the opposite of leaving responsibility for our society to others. Malama does not recognize that I have some kind of “right” to be exempted from obligations. Hoohanohano emphasizes honor as a quality defining one’s life and one’s relationships. Perhaps the Hawaiian value of kulia ika nuu says it best: The pursuit of excellence in oneself, the personal vision which drives one to always try to become a better person, to grow better values, to learn from one’s mistakes.
Yes, sometimes circumstances bring about fiscal poverty, but not having money does not mean that one has to be dirty, a thief, or a narcissist. The issue of poverty is not simply a monetary one, but most importantly one of a lack of personal vision due to a lack of life-enhancing values… most especially life-enhancing for others, as well as for ourselves. After all, we are not the only ones in this canoe we call earth!