The other day a man came to repair our boiler. We were talking about neighborhoods in Southeast London and he mentioned that Deptford is known to be the poorest area south of the river.
Deptford is where my kids go to school.
That really bothered me. And it might be better if I could say that it bothered me because I didn’t feel safe in Deptford or because I didn’t think my kids went to an adequate school. But the truth is, I’ve never felt unsafe in my neighborhood or the area where my kids go to school. And I have no complaints at all about my kid’s school. Their teachers are intelligent and kind, their classmates are friendly and diverse, and from what I’ve researched, their government reports are categorised as “Good.” (Just below “Outstanding.”)
So why does it bother me? This is really difficult to own to, but I’ve realised that it bothers me because I don’t want to be associated with them. I am not poor and I don’t want anyone to think I am.
Any time I sense superiority or exclusion rising up inside of me I have to check myself. There are definitely groups and categories I’m happy to not be a part of. But why not poverty?
I think there are two roots to my insecurity. First- I have something to prove. My husband has a good job, we have made responsible life choices, we are hard-working and financially practical people. All these things are true. But proving this to the world, or at least every person I have to tell where I live, is unnecessary because the truth is,
IT DOESN’T MATTER.
I’ve attached my worth to a paradigm that isn’t even an option for many of the people that live around me. My husband and I went to college because our parents encouraged us, occasionally footed the bill, and saw that we had adequate opportunity. We grew up in a culture that valued education and we were blessed with emotional and physical stability and safety that allowed us to thrive and make good choices. We work hard because our childhood was surrounded with examples of hard-working people and we had countless advantages in our functional and comfortable upbringings.
These are all blessings I should be ever-grateful for, not merits I ought to feel compelled to prove by using a neighborhood as a status symbol.
The second cause of my insecurity is that poverty can be uncomfortable. I get nervous around panhandlers and feel awkward when the woman in front of me at the grocery store doesn’t have enough cash to pay for what she’s selected. It’s uncomfortable to live amongst the poor. It’s uncomfortable when my seminary girls comment on our house being so large. (By American standards it’s not large at all.) It’s uncomfortable for me to make conversation with someone who is missing most of their teeth. It’s uncomfortable for me to step around homeless people when I catch an early train on Saturday mornings. Some aspects about living amongst the poor will never be pleasant, but they might be unpleasant in more compassionate ways, and less about me.
Stereotypes and assumptions are tough barriers to break through. I appreciated Elder Holland’s words about poverty so much. His own humility and compassion were without condescension and inspired me to reconsider my own attitudes toward the poor; and challenge me to override the Ego of Jo and look for humanity in the faces of those around me.
I tried to write this post without sounding like a snob. But I couldn’t do it and still be authentic. Which I think means I AM a bit of a snob. Which, as Marilla and the bible say, the truth shall set you free. By acknowledging my snobbishness, to whatever extent it exists, I am free to change.