Poverty: A Reflection (by Phoenix)

So in the end, we can only do our best. What constitutes our best is another matter, but are we honest with ourselves about what it means to try? I try to do that, I try to be honest about where I am coming from with any given point, when I’m communicating to others, and seeking to make connections, deep and meaningful connections.

I’ve noticed that I am a kind of outlier, in certain groups, and this is because I don’t follow the usual group dynamics, and conform to said group. This doesn’t mean that I am not accepting of the rules and norms governing any group that I may be a part of, but it does mean that I seek to foster my integrity and my desire to do good, doing my best to stay out of group politics.

I haven’t written for The Legacy Initiative in a while, and this is because I have been very discouraged. In some ways this makes no sense, because my experience with Legacy has been very good. There have been some difficult moments, but my experience personally has taught me a lot. But I would say that the discouragement didn’t come because of The Legacy Initiative, but because of certain factors that had complicated my life. I was criticized for trying to make it as a writer, and in the end, I had to make a fundamental change in my schedule and routine, and even in my career.

The good news is, I have seemingly come full circle with having a job that is considered more acceptable, because my search for more sustainable work has been underway for a while now, and I believe that I am finally, slowly, starting to see the fruits of my labor. Which means, that I, being the creative soul that I am, have at least this essay/article in me, something that I had to get out into the world.
I want to start by asking the fundamental question: what is poverty? Of course, to some people, poverty is the very opposite of what we want for our overly capitalistic culture. In other words, nobody wants to be poor, because you are low on the hierarchy, because you have no money to buy new things (consumerism), and because you don’t glitter and shine with your social status. But in my experience, this is a problem. Basically what this means is, we don’t want to be “poor.” But this is actually a very shallow societal condition and internalized expectation, one that I think many people think about constantly, but that never seems to change. Poverty for me can mean a lot of things, such as a poverty of mind. It can be a kind of closemindedness, an inability to see the world on its own terms, and to do the hard work of learning and seeking to understand what is happening around you. By closemindedness, I mean the inability to be compassionate to other individuals whom you may disagree with, or who may challenge you in negative and difficult ways.

The poverty of mind runs rampant in our society. I was told, in a kind of offhand but meaningful way, that philosophy is the very attempt to see the world more clearly. I suppose this is why I study philosophy. I want to see the world as it is, in all of its complexity.

As I have lived and worked in the community, I have seen this closemindedness in very distinct ways, whether it has been in people that I know, or complete strangers. But I would assert that closemindedness is a problem for our society, and a big deal, certainly worth pointing out. Because what the poverty of mind does for me, is it impoverishes the landscape of really good ideas, and makes it so that we are not doing our own thinking, and we are not positing the next generation of good ideas. Sam Harris once said that bad ideas need to be criticized. My work with The Legacy Initiative has forced me to do that because I have seen many bad ideas out in the world, such as a blatant mistreating of the poor. I won’t go into the political dynamics of what has been happening in our community as regards those experiencing homelessness and our government, but I would say that I am very disappointed in the powers that be. I would say that our society has waged war on those who suffer from poverty, and this is very crushing, and very cruel.

Which is why I seek to do better. As a physicist once said, the world is full of big ideas, such as a beautiful eclipse, or the groundbreaking discoveries of science, or quantum mechanics. But the world, as we know from the election cycle in 2016 moving forward, has produced a lot of very small ideas. This includes a rampant xenophobia and tribalism, that pushes other people out, and that hurts them in the end.

But this doesn’t mean that I am a liberal, of course. I am just reporting on these things autobiographically, and perhaps even asserting some of my convictions. Perhaps I could be dismissed as being another left-wing fanatic, who espouses a kind of socialism and Marxism, as well as makes what could be considered very shallow claims about money and culture. But isn’t it interesting how we go back to that, to that exact thing? Poverty, right? And not even just poverty of mind. The very thing that we find ugly in the world. The very thing that people don’t like. And I realized, in many deep experiences, that those who suffer from poverty certainly don’t want it either. Why would they want that kind of pain? Why and how would it be easy for them, as some politicians have stated?

I would again have to assert the craziness of the poverty of mind. We have to be able to think deeply about the world. Maybe sometimes we are unable to do that, perhaps because we don’t know how. But I would say, we must continually try to dive right in. Good ideas should be shared, and we should do our best to internalize them. This of course takes time, however, much criticism and critique of social ideas, as well as education, education of which was one of my goals as I work with The Legacy Initiative and write for them.

I know that I have been imperfect over the past few years, but I have made learning and processing through writing an important part of my actual process for living, and I know have gotten better at evaluating my own perspective and my own ideas. I am also more mellow. This is because I think it is important that we think deeply, and not to say that we aren’t thinking deeply. But I have been heartbroken to see negativity spread out in my community, even though this negativity is, in some ways, just another small idea, a representation of the poverty of mind. We can’t be small minded when we look at other people. We have to see them in their humanity, and give them their dignity. This is really important, and I think it is an idea that isn’t necessarily fashionable in mainstream social circles. We always think we can do better than others because we are better than others, but again, small thinking.

I don’t mean to be overly critical of flaws that we may have, of course, and I am speaking broadly because I am generally agnostic and skeptical when it comes to my own ideas and positing ideas. But sometimes, we have to say what it is that is on our hearts and minds, and this essay is a part of that, because I seek to push through the poverty of the world, or at least Salt Lake City, by providing humanitarian aid with The Legacy Initiative. And I also write my essays/articles, to appeal to other readers who may be interested in serving those who suffer from homelessness. I hope that it is educational in some ways, even though my perspective is merely autobiographical and anecdotal. And I would say, certainly, the point of my articles has been to challenge and even threaten the poverty of mind that we all fall prey to sometimes, when we wish to think of the world in black-and-white terms, when of course, things are far more complicated than that.

So call this essay what you will: a reflection, an expression, an explication, a representation. And I will continue to posit a kind of philosophical agnosticism, where we don’t immediately make decisions based off what is easy and convenient for us, and we don’t think about things based off what is easy and convenient, but rather, suspend our judgment and perform a kind of dialectic, looking at opposing views, views that are different from our own. I do this all the time when I look at my own beliefs, and I really am dialectical and agnostic in that way, because I usually refrain from taking sides. That said, we must always be ready to stand up for what we believe in, the point of agnosticism, to refine our viewpoint, and give us a stronger basis for our argumentation.

My goal isn’t to tell one how to think about homelessness as a social issue, or what our political leanings should be, or what is required for us to believe on a daily basis. Rather, my goal is to fan a spark of passion and fire, to ask questions, not in a shallow way and in a way that impoverishes our perspective and our worldview, but rather, to try to see things more clearly. Indeed, it can be said that people suffer because we don’t strive to see the world more clearly. We hurt others because we don’t see the other person as their own sufficient and necessary organism, with their own complicated consciousness and group dynamic. The point being, when we don’t strive to see people in a positive or realistic way, we are not seeing the world clearly. This is a difficult idea to digest, of course, because we want so badly to judge other people. My point isn’t necessarily about saying that we can’t discern for ourselves, but rather, that we must strive to see the world as it is, because when we don’t, we think black-and-white, and we become poor in the mind. I understand that it is difficult to see the world more clearly, but I would still argue that it is worth it to try. This is what I tried to do with my essays for The Legacy Initiative, I just wanted to provide a perspective of compassion and dignity, even if I am wrong about many things. And I think people like me, who really likes to engage with deep realities, who is willing to look at suffering in the eye, this is what was right for me.

In closing, I would like to say, we must be kinder to ourselves. We must be friendly to others. We must engage with ideas that we don’t like, because we must try to understand the narratives that push and create events in the world. We must remember that we will never have it all figured out, but that we can learn enough to assert certain truths and realities and perspectives: what we think matters. We have to be patient with ourselves, and this is something that I have learned, as I continue to serve the community and grow, and write. And because I have cultivated these things in myself, I see them as important to follow through with, and I think, it helps me become the person that I long to be: rich in ideas and nuanced, with a desire to do good. Indeed, sometimes we forget what we are trying to accomplish and what the goal actually is, and so, we must go back to the basics, back to our roots, and that is who I am, when I think about the stories that have inspired me to continue to try to do good and be an example in the world: and I am not giving that up.