Hot! Ignoring disadvantaged won’t make problems go away

WellandTribune.ca – news/columnists
November 17, 2011.   By  Community Voices

Oscar Wilde once told a fairy tale about a giant so overly concerned with his own property that he erected enormous Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted signs on his lawn.

The children, who loved playing in his garden, took the hint as they didn’t want to suffer the giant’s wrath. Months later, the giant wakens to the sound of laughter, only to find that the same children have ignored his orders, and have moved in, occupying his garden.

Instead of anger, the giant’s heart melted at the sight of a little child unable to reach the branches of the tree. He abandons his vain self-preservation and ventures into the garden, with his eyes opened to the realities of his world.

I must gratefully thank Derek Coté for writing the article Time for Occupy protesters to go home, printed in The Tribune, for providing me grist for my own article. In his article, Mr. Coté attacked the then still entrenched Occupiers camped around places like St. James Park in Toronto, Wall Street in New York, and outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. These Occupiers are hoping to inspire sweeping economic reform to the world system that seemingly rewards bad banking behavior and awards bonuses using bank bailouts.

There are many points on which Mr. Coté and I agree. But whether he admits it or not, there is a growing divide between the rich and poor in our society. While in the U.S. 1% of the people control 99% of the wealth, Canada fares marginally better at 4% owning 70%.

This divide threatens to widen as in recent articles in CBC, Forbes and even the Occupy movement, highlight the disappearing middle class. We are moving ever closer to the black-and-white reality of haves and have-nots.

At our most recent Tribune community editorial board meeting, when discussing these protestors, much vitriol around the table was directed at labeling this group as a bunch of elitist entitled Occupiers. We have it good in Canada, so why should we complain? Clearly our banking system didn’t allow the kind of injustices that took place in other places of the world, so what’s our problem? And these Occupiers were mostly well educated, entitled folk that expected to get a job after exiting post secondary education.

Silently I sat and listened and wondered to myself, when did entitlement become a bad thing?

I’m sure entitlement was at the forefront of Tommy Douglas’ mind when national health care was introduced to ensure that every person, regardless of wealth, would be treated the same in our hospitals. Our education system, which each and every child is entitled to, still ranks us in the top 10 in the world.

Why is it wrong to fight for the entitlement of a job for those willing to work? Or safe and affordable housing? Or food? Where do we stop the line of entitlement? And who gets to draw that line between what is a right and what is a privilege?

Clearly the protesters are in the wrong place. Much like their message, which at times seems convoluted and unclear, they seem to be protesting in the wrong place. Much like Mr. Coté’s sentiments, they belong better at Congress, on the steps of city hall or Parliament. But no matter where they are located, this sweaty, dishevelled, disorganized mass of people is pointing to a problem.

Something is wrong in our society that creates systems in which 60% of people working today live paycheque to paycheque, and personal debt is skyrocketing. Something is wrong in our society that sees the necessity of The Tribune printing article after article highlighting the problem of poverty in our area. Something is wrong in our society when we have to have a townwide food drive to ensure people in our midst have enough food.

The Occupiers might be in the wrong spot, but they’re pointing to a problem which we too easily ignore because we’re too busy getting to work and paying our bills.

I’m sorry that people have had to cross lines of protestors and move around the makeshift camps that have sprung up around places of business, but if they were not in our way, would we even care? Thank goodness we’re not tripping over protestors to get to work here in the Niagara region, because that might slow us down.

For that matter, we are so lucky around here to not be accosted on the street by those in poverty — at least they have the decency to be the invisible poor in our area.

Maybe we should go as far as the giant in the Oscar Wilde story and put up signs to ensure none of those wandering children ever walk on our grass.

On the other hand, maybe we need to see those hiding in the corners of our gardens, unable to reach up or even aspire to touch the top of the tree. Much like the children’s laughter in the garden, my ears perked up when I heard the words of pastor Martin Niemöller this way:

First they came for the Occupiers,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t camped outside of Bay Street.

Then they came for the unemployed,

and I didn’t speak out because I had a good job.

Then they came for the poor,

and I didn’t speak out because I was middle class.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

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3 Comments

  1. Downtown Sudbury has been described as a very sketchy area in which the poor like to hang. Stricken with drug users and alcoholics, I was told to never venture alone downtown at night. The Sudbury transits main bus terminal is located downtown and all walks of life pass through its doors. It is impossible not to notice the poor and destitute as you wait for the bus. I am pretty sure that people have complained about the conditions of downtown Sudbury as well as complained about the many individuals who roam the streets high on drugs or so drunk that they can hardly walk across the street without stumbling.
    With that being said, how can we ignore the disadvantage? Unlike mentioned by the author, these people are visible. They are right there in our faces everyday for those of us who use the public transit system. Unfortunately, we tend to turn up our faces when an old man walks by limping and smelling of urine. Why do we ignore these people? Is it because we believe that they are a product of their own misfortune?
    Sadly, these individuals are in our faces yet they still remain invisible as some of us do not believe that everyone is entitled to have the same luxuries as everyone else. Something so simple as taking a bath everyday would mean the world to a homeless individual but in society, only the privileged could have a luxury such as this.
    As the author states, who decides what we are and are not entitled to? Most importantly, how long can we ignore the amount of poverty displayed in the downtown area of Sudbury?

  2. Marisa Alamenciak

    Facing realities can be difficult, and some people would rather ignore what is right in front of them, rather than to deal with it first-hand. I am guilty of this as well, walking around in Toronto when there are homeless people asking for change or food I often turn my head and keep walking and I go on with my day. Is it selfish? Yes, but it is easier to ignore the disadvantaged; however on the other hand does it help? No. As an aspiring social worker, I have learned that there are many disadvantaged people within society and ignoring them will not help the situation, if anything it will make things worse.

    “Instead of anger, the giant’s heart melted at the sight of a little child unable to reach the branches of the tree. He abandons his vain self-preservation and ventures into the garden, with his eyes opened to the realities of his world” After reading this statement it made me think of some of the things that have been right in front of my face, but due to ignorance I never noticed. I think that people within society need to have an open mind when discussing and recognizing the disadvantaged, because if we stop ignoring them, maybe instead we can help and make a difference.

    Discussing homeless people and how they are disadvantaged and ignored almost seems too easy, because people see them every day. What about those who are disadvantaged but not homeless? The article states that 60% of people working today live paycheque to paycheque, and personal debt is skyrocketing. How bad is society, when people are working as hard as they can, but still cannot make ends meet and form such a large debt for necessities of life? Although there are food drives and social programs, many people do not want to use these services, because with all of the hard work being done on their part they still cannot provide for themselves. This can create issues where some would rather go into debt than reach out for help. If someone is an active member of society and putting all of their effort to provide for themselves and their families, why should they need assistance? There is something seriously wrong with society when people are not receiving enough money from their jobs to provide a quality life free from debt and also to have the option to buy not only things they need but want.

    There are no quick solutions and everything takes time, but if people began to recognize that there are problems and do something rather than ignore them, would the world be a better place? Would there be less disadvantaged people? We won’t know until we start doing more within society to help solve this problem.

  3. The horrible sitiotuan of most youth in Tanzania’s urban areas especially young women who are abused due to the scarcity of opportunities to develop themselves. This is the group of vulnerable youth who are uprooted from their home to towns and cities like Dar es Salaam and Arusha as asylum seekers, unfortunately there was no opportunity available for them. We call for private sector, governments, donors and internatinal agencies to help in rescuring the problem. The focus is to change challenges to be an opportunity and problems to become a great project!

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