The New Poverty: A Silent Epidemic

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A week or so ago, I was sitting in my desk during economics, listening to a lecture about decision making by my incredibly loud and opinionated teacher. We all know the type: red as a brick, loud as a train, and who just ends up pointing to inanimate objects and quivering students very, very frequently. This class, unsurprisingly enough, happens to be the very class in which the most unexpected and unrelated topics spring up and are discussed, instead of the actual economic curriculum.

I mean… I’m not complaining.

On this particular day, however, things took a turn for the worse. Through a series of questions, answers, and tangents that I will not bore you with, I was asked what Spring Valley Call to Action was all about. I answered that we generally strive to make people aware of worldwide issues. What issues? Well, poverty for one. Poverty? Okay class, how many of you have heard of poverty before?

As every hand went up, I slumped farther and farther into my seat. Of course everyone knows what poverty is. To the average American, someone who is poor is almost always a dirty person sitting on the sidewalk, holding an empty Styrofoam coffee cup, and asking strangers for spare change in the middle of Times Square. Poverty is for the less fortunate, for the people who chose to be unsuccessful. Poverty is restrictive; some are poor, others are not.

Through the duration of the class, my spirits drooped lower and lower – unfortunately for me, I had struck home on one of his favorite topics to talk about: people trying to change the world. I noticed that he really didn’t see a reason for our club, for the videos that we broadcasted to the schools, for the posters we made, or even for the message we were trying to send. That’s fine, in my opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own views and their own interests and pursuits. But, at the same time, it became apparent that my classmates were unconsciously beginning to slide over to his point of view. Because he was the one in charge, his views were obviously the correct ones.

I see this happen a lot, unfortunately. In school, in politics, in religious matters. Some people become too complacent in what they believe and allow others to swoop in and shape “their” ideas. They never really form an idea of what they themselves believe – jumping on the bandwagon is so much easier and hassle-free! Similarly, there are others who don’t even care about an issue enough to learn anything about it, save for the fact that it exists.

Based on my observations, I have come up with a simple statement: poverty has become a worldwide epidemic. No, not in the sense that you’re probably thinking of – if a homeless guy coughs on you, you won’t suddenly lose everything you own. Rather, I’m talking about poverty of the mind. I saw it invisibly spread through the words and air in my classroom, and I see it spreading slowly but surely in the minds of unsuspected victims. How is it spread, you ask? Well, through all the nay-sayers, the people who feel that the world revolves around me, so why should I care about some random kid in Africa. The ones in authority who broadcast their beliefs so loudly that you’re wrong if you don’t believe what they believe. There are really countless ways.

Now, for the antidote you’ve all been waiting for…

There’s the crux in the matter – there isn’t really a clear way to be immune to this epidemic. No one is impervious to the powers of persuasion, no matter how fabulous you are. However, there are ways to battle and bulk up against it. I encourage you to form your own opinions and beliefs from scratch. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know you have that essay to write, and practice tomorrow so how can you possibly fit in the task of finding yourself into a Tuesday afternoon? Well, hold on there Mr. Ambitious. Forming your own opinion on a largely disputed topic takes time, time, and more time. No one asked you to mow through article after article about the endangered Panda Bear at 3 o’clock in the morning. Just, keep your eyes open to the news: articles, videos, books. There’s a lot of information out there, and you just need to find it. I promise you, if you do this on your own, (without asking your mom what she thinks every 5 seconds) you will find that the reward was very worth the search – you can help stop this new poverty dead in its tracks.

by Elisabeth Brown

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