Pitfalls of Plenty–Paradigms of Poverty

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In my time at Monmouth College I have been blessed with the opportunity to enhance my skills, expand my perspective, and embrace my role in the global community. In the classrooms my professors have assigned enlightening material, led theoretical discussions, and maintained an omnipresent expectation that I analyze and reflect. Outside of academia my peers and I have contemplated our futures, our goals for success, and the trajectory we will take to achieve such ends.

I recently left the “ivory tower” that is Monmouth College and ventured to Chicago, IL and Louisville, KY to see firsthand how people are striving to succeed in “the real world.” The tone for the Chicago trip was set by the fact that I was required to wear a shirt and tie (as if apparel would disguise the reality that as a college student I am spending rather than making thousands of dollars a year). This was reinforced as my fellow travelers and I shook the hands of some equally well dressed but far wealthier individuals. We listened to the life’s wisdom of corporate executives and toured a law firm in the Sears Tower where the people in the corner offices salaries were the only things larger than their view of Lake Michigan.

Though I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed eating Oysters Rockefeller for lunch I could not help but feel a bit hungry for something else. If adjudicated with power and wealth as the criteria the people I met were enormously successful but such parameters fail to consider happiness or fulfillment.

Speaking of hunger…my trip to Kentucky left me starved! Under the direction of Rev. Teri Ott, I and three soon to become best friends traveled to Louisville to experience poverty. Immersed in an economically dire inner city neighborhood we experienced what it is like to live without food security, a bed to sleep in, or a steady job. As volunteers we worked in an urban garden, food pantry, community center, and a subsidized senior living facility. Though our struggle was temporary the people we were working with—and learning from—were unfortunately in the midst of a more permanent situation.

Their hardship was difficult to comprehend and somewhat troublesome when juxtaposed with the lifestyle of those I had met in Chicago; notwithstanding, both demographics were experiencing suffering. As a result of long hours at the office some wealthy people rarely see their children, while inconsistent employment can leave a struggling bread-winner at home with their kids all day. Too much good food can cause people of means to have high cholesterol, just as easy access to low quality food can result in high rates of diabetes in impoverished communities. This disparage is increasingly bothersome as statistics and empirical data reveal that the excesses of the top come at a cost to those at the bottom[1]. Though the lifestyles of the individuals I met in Chicago and Louisville were different, they shared a sense of dissatisfaction due to the pitfalls inherent to excessive wealth and financial insufficiency.

As a college student I am apart of the next generation and the decision to continue the existence of this inequitable system is ours. We are all driven to succeed—and rightfully so—but we must realize that our success cannot come at a detrimental cost to others. It will behoove us to remember the messages behind our class readings which guide us towards virtue and understanding, we should keep the theoretical in mind as we seek to create a more just and benevolent society, and we must never cease to analyses and reflect upon the world we live in. Though generations past have failed, we have the power and knowledge to redefine the world around paradigms of shared prosperity.

Publisher: Corbin Beastrom


[1]According to Forbes Magazine in 2011 the CEO of Yum! Brands made 29.67 million dollars while his company paid 99 cents a bushel to tomato farmers living below the poverty line.

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3 comments

  1. Garlock

    I enjoyed your thoughts about your two very different experiences. The fact that you are reflecting on those experiences says much about your view of the world and your place in it! A few thoughts/questions came to mind as I read your post…..as middle class folks, do we aspire to move up the socio-economic ladder? I feel like we inherently want to be “better” but how do we define that and do we achieve that at the expense of others (the “lower” class)? Is it OK that kids in China get paid a pittance to build my iPad so that I can actually afford the iPad? As we in the middle class aspire to be “better” (wanting the right address, the right clothes, car, vacation, or fill in the blank) when do we cross the line into being part of the problem and not part of the solution? Of course, this is easier to rationalize when the marginalized people are out of our sight.

    OK…enough deep thinking for a Saturday morning! Keep up the good work!

    • Corbin Beastrom

      Thanks for the comment. I could not agree with your sentiment more. On our way back from the trip our first stops was at a trendy breakfast house and a Starbuck’s. I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty as I had just come from a food desert. I have rationalized the contrast by thinking in moderation. As middle class folks you have made some good decisions and helped the world. Elwood and you have educated yourselves and worked hard. You are not defined by your possessions, rather your prius, home (which you did not have built to impress others), and ipad are means of engaging the world. By saving money on gas you can travel more. By living in a well kept historic home you can entertain, socialize, and build community with chicken cookouts. And I know you bought your ipad so you could stay up to date on the Sierra club and the blog of neighbor boy.
      So I guess I would like to see more people follow in your example. By working and consuming for the right reasons a more enlightened society would emerge and the disparage in the world would deminish.

      Corbin

  2. Jeremy

    “By working and consuming for the right reasons a more enlightened society would emerge and the disparage in the world would deminish.”

    This is actually a fascinating perspective. I’ll think about it and get back to you.

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