November 1990

These are my mixed and unorganized thoughts on poverty:

In my personal search for the reason of life's injustices, several questions arose. What made others fall into the damnable trap of being born poor? Where did such oppression originate? Why does our loving God permit such injustices?

Does Poverty and Oppression Equate to Misery?

One of our main "flaws" is our desire to remove poverty and oppression. Truly, poverty and oppression brings about immense physical pain. However, from this physical pain, the emotional rewards are, at times, immeasurable.

One of our difficulties is in comprehending the positive effects of poverty and oppression. We take for granted that such predicaments are evil, painful, and disastrous. However, nowhere is it more evident that such assumptions are mostly to the contrary, upon careful observations of the actual poor and oppressed. Truly, there is immense grief in the effects associated with poverty and oppression. However, with this grief comes love and fulfillment.

The true concept of community, for instance, is mainly found in third world countries. In observing the families in third and fourth world countries, one could easily see the existence of agapé (herein, I am not limiting agapé to only Christian communities. Though its definition is inseparably tied to Christian love, when I refer to "agapé," I am referring to love of neighbor as "defined" from the Christian perspective -- also present in a lot of non-Christian communities) as the driving force of the community. Their community is composed of a relationship of mutual commitment held sacred among persons of a common good, common heritage, and a common life.

Poverty and oppression are truly physically painful phenomena. No one deserves the hurting these phenomena brings about. However, such occurrence of poverty and oppression institutes a form of fulfillment and happiness. The physical and emotional mishap the poor and oppressed encounters is offset by love. Living in our society, away from oppression and poverty, deprives us of the real meaning of agapé. As a human being, one could well concede the preciousness of every form of love - be it eros, philia, etc. It is in this view, then, that they are better off than us. They have the privilege of a richer and a more diversified experience of love.

The famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, who was born to an aristocratic family (which he referred to in his writing as his "circle"), and later, decided to live among the poor, vividly wrote of happiness in poverty. In the following quotation, Tolstoy talked of his former life (his aristocratic circle), and his new life with the poor:

"In contradistinction to what I saw in our circle, where all life passed in idleness, amusements, and tedium of life, I saw that the whole life of these people was passed in hard work, and that they were satisfied with life. In contradistinction to the people of our circle, who struggled and murmured against fate because of their privations and their sufferings, these people accepted diseases and sorrows without any perplexity or opposition, but with the calm and firm conviction that it was all for good. In contradistinction to the fact that the more intelligent we are, the less do we understand the meaning of life and the more do we see a kind of a bad joke in our suffering and death, these people live, suffer, and approach death, and suffer in peace and more often in joy... I began to love those people. The more I penetrated into their life, the life of the men now living, and the life of men departed, of whom I had read and heard, the more did I love them, and the easier it became for me to live. Thus I lived for about two years, and within me took place a transformation, which had long been working within me, and the germ of which had always been in me. What happened with me was that the life of our circle - of the rich and the learned - not only disgusted me, but even lost all its meaning. All our acts, reflections, sciences, arts - all that appeared to me in a new light. I saw that all that was mere pampering of the appetites, and that no meaning could be found in it; but the life of all the working masses, of all humanity, which created life, presented itself to me in its real significance. I saw that that was life itself and that the meaning given to this life was truth, and I accepted it."