Is misfortune contagious? If I distance myself far enough from those who experience bad luck; whether it be the loss of a loved one, redundancy or illness will I be able to continue with my privileged life and tell myself they are to blame for their circumstances? Because it is their fault, isn’t it? They chose to live like this, they clearly couldn’t afford to have children and their unemployment is a result of bad choices. If I try understand the circumstances the vulnerable are in, if I attempt to help them, and if I see them as people – just like me – what will happen? Will the gap between my life of privilege and their existence narrow? There are two types of people in the world – those who see the bundle of blankets in a door way, recoil in disgust, judge and then think nothing of it until they next have to walk past; and those who see the people.
Which one are you? I’m going to admit, I think I’m more of the first. I don’t understand, and what I don’t understand – I don’t like much. I’m certainly not alone. Take the “Your help, may harm” campaign, rolled out in Hamilton last year. “Your help, may harm”. Look at that. You are great, privileged and generous – now distance yourself. Now, you don’t even have to fumble around in your pocket pretending to look for $2 – you can walk past – with a cursory nod to the poster on the dairy wall and go buy that takeaway coffee. I can distance myself further. Great.
It’s not just dirty old men in sleeping bags I’m avoiding. What if, I found myself single, unemployed (because who can afford childcare anyway) and on a <shock horror> benefit? I’d be smoking at the kitchen table while watching Jeremy Kyle in no time. I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want society to judge me. There are two types of people in the world when it comes to the fallout surrounding Green party co-leader Meteria Turei’s admission last week. The one who thought – “OMG benefit fraud – she has no morals – she has to go!” and the one who thought – “I’m glad she chose to use this example to make welfare an election issue”. Shouldn’t it always be one? I admit I am judgmental at times – but I’m in the second camp here, I wholeheartedly support what she did. How can we judge a parent for wanting to make sure their kid is fed? How can we act so shocked and disgusted when let’s be honest, it’s impossible to navigate our social welfare systems and no-one on a benefit is raking it in. It barely covers the cost of living. But, I understand… fraud is ripping off the tax payer – people like you and me who pay taxes. I would never do that.
Don’t have children if you can’t afford them they say? Jesus, I’d love to know how many of us actually planned to have kids. Were you in a long term relationship? – did you save and plan for that kid? I’m glad your child wasn’t born with an illness or disability, I’m glad you didn’t lose your income during that time. Lucky our circumstances stayed the same eh?
Redundancy hurts. Well, not for me personally – but I’ve heard it does. I’m skilled, educated and have mediocre social skills – I’ll never have a problem getting a job. Will I?
I have a choice now. I can continue just “being lucky” until my time is up – and then become “one of them”… that pile in a doorway – that mother who has to lie to WINZ to survive, or that person who has to apply for 100 jobs before being successful. I can plan on being lucky – or I can share luck, build resilience and demand better social services for the vulnerable. I can discard the judgment, use my luck and privilege; and help in any way I can.
There are community organisations picking up where our central government misses the mark. We can help them. We can volunteer our time, skills or money to help improve our communities. We can give as little or much as we like. Everyone has something to share. Find yours. Get involved. Don’t turn a blind eye. Luck isn’t finite. While politics seems irrelevant – there’s no denying central government has the ability to respond to community momentum too. They represent us. The government does what we want – or it goes… that’s how it works. Encourage the young, and poor to vote – if you know any. And if you are privileged, if you’ve had luck – consider sharing it. Vote for the greater good this year. Vote for a fair and equal society. There is no science backing the idea that misfortune spreads.