“So what do the rich do every day that the poor don’t do?” A few months ago I read an article that was posted in a Facebook business group of which I am a member. The article is titled: 20 Things The Rich Do Every Day. It was posted at http://www.daveramsey.com/blog/20-things-the-rich-do-every-day (although the original article was written by someone else).
The blog lists 20 different things, including eating less junk food, exercising aerobically daily, listening to audio books, reading 2 or more books to their children a month, and the list goes on and on.
I was deeply disturbed by this article because of what it failed to mention – particularly the real life, socially constructed systems and structures in our society that perpetuate economic disparity between the rich and the poor. At the same time, this was posted on the Facebook page of a business group I joined to improve my ability to succeed in the competitive marketplace, and I want to be seen in that group in a way that might encourage the members to send me referrals or other business help, right?
I don’t want to rock the boat and upset people or make them uncomfortable because this is part of my networking community. I don’t want to do anything that might disadvantage my business or me.
Yet a louder voice spoke (before I could even reel her in!). And she remembered my morning prayer from the Jewish tradition said everyday as part of the paragraph after the Sh’ma as it appears in the Torah’s fifth book (Deuteronomy or in Hebrew, Devarim). “And you shall love the Transformative Power (God/Goddess) of the universe with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart. And you should teach them to your children, and talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way (in the public arena)….etc.”
Prior to the Sh’ma, we say a prayer that tells us not to be ashamed or embarrassed about speaking these truths. When I hear these prayers, and their injunction to love and speak, I immediately associate it to the other love-commands of Torah, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love the stranger (the Other), to create a world based on justice, to act as created in the image of this loving God, and to be stewards of the planet.
So when I say these prayers, they remind me that it is our job to talk about how the world can be transformed, how we need to talk about the things in our society that create power imbalances, that create a deepening rift between the rich and the poor, that create racial injustice, that create environmental destruction, etc.
In fact, in the next paragraph, also part of Torah, the prayer explicitly warns that if we don’t create a world based on these commandments, there will be an environmental catastrophe, and human and animal life on this planet are in danger of perishing (an environmental consciousness from over two thousand years ago!).
The way I read this prayer, I understand the Torah to be enjoining us to speak about this not only in private, not only to people who agree with us, not only when it’s safe or ok, but even when it’s not “safe,” even when it will make people uncomfortable, even when it seems “inappropriate.” And so in honor of my spiritual practice and to hold my own feet to the fire in terms of embodying that practice, I wrote the following on the group Facebook page in response to the posting of the article.
All the things described as “behaviors” of the rich on this list are privileges that would be good for everyone to indulge in, but unfortunately largely unavailable to poor people given the choices available to them. Our privilege is not as a result of some higher consciousness or being “better” in some way; we ignore the systemic way that the poor have been deprived of the options to live a healthier life. For one example, the cost of healthy food is simply out of the range of most poor people given the salaries that the rich and their corporations pay the poor. In addition, the luxury of exercising everyday comes with having the time and sometimes the ability to pay for gyms, equipment or trainers. Poor people often work 2-3 jobs simply to meet basic needs. Not to mention in other countries where women walk miles to gather and carry water for their families – an aerobic exercise many of us could not possibly manage ourselves. Our privileges are at the cost of poor peoples’ basic survival. This article reminds me and hopefully us of the imperative and moral obligation we have to work to transform the economic injustices of the world so that the privileged behaviors of the wealthy become the norm for everyone. I’d like this discussion to be a part of our training.
I probably should have added this: that articles that implicitly judge rich people as “good” or “better than” poor people and poor people as “bad” or “less than” rich people, such as this, only perpetuate stereotypes and undermine people’s compassion and empathy for others and bolsters their sense of self-righteousness. The effect of this is that people are less likely to engage in acts of caring and generosity for the “other” or stranger amongst us.
I think this occurs because it is easier to believe that we truly live in a society based on meritocracy than to accept the greater truth of “there but for fortune go you or me.” If only the poor would pull themselves up by their boot straps, suck it up, make a commitment, persevere, they too could be as rich as me. Sure, hard work goes a long way, but to presume poor people don’t work hard because they are poor is both circular and mistaken. In fact, many of the poor hold down more than one job, and still remain poor.
The article I’m critiquing focuses on a very narrow definition of rich – financial wealth. There are other things in life that make people rich – the depth of meaningful connections, love, care, respect, kindness, compassion, empathy, etc. I wonder what an article would say are the 20 habits of caring, compassionate, generous, loving (i.e., rich) people.