"The difference between the poor and wealthy is simple: the poor have no choice, and the wealthy have too many."
Said Kerry Hilton, Founder and President of Freeset, an organization that seeks to provide a choice for women to choose freedom from sex trafficking.
The difference between the poor and wealthy is simple: the poor have no choice, and the wealthy have too many.
During our first day on the ground in Kolkata, Kerry asked me a poignant question that has since altered my paradigm on poverty. He asked, What is the difference between what you see in Kolkata and the West? I responded by describing my observation of the power differentials between the wealthy and poor. Wealth yields power over the poor and ultimately control.
Kerry did not disagree. He actually thought it was an astute observation, but then he asked: What yields the power? From where does it come? Quite honesty, I didn't think anything existed behind power. I assumed that power was in and of itself a force that one either possessed or did not. I told him that I didn't know. Then, he replied, "Choice."
Choice yields power.
The one who is able to choose possesses the power, while the one without choice is at the mercy of the one with it.
Our time in Kolkata typified this dichotomy between a lack of and an abundance of choice. Case in point…
During our 8-day stay at the Baptist Missionary Society Guest House — who provided more than outstanding accommodations for us — we discovered that our choice of breakfast options was limited to a piece of white toast with strawberry jam, either a scrambled or hardboiled egg, and one banana. At the front end, this breakfast was delightful. Toward the end of our stay, however, most of us felt a bit tired of the same ol' thing.
After several rounds of the same breakfast, a couple of the guys decided that they would simply not eat breakfast. They had had enough. Though everyone in the group tried to dissuade them from acting on their decision, they did it anyway. So, for the final two days, they didn't eat breakfast. They still came to breakfast, but they did not eat. They drank plenty of water, compensated with other meals, and probably felt a bit hungry toward lunchtime.
But in light of Kerry's words, I could not pass on the opportunity to debrief this real life example of choice taking place right before our eyes. There was something much larger at stake than simply not eating breakfast. It consisted of more than health concerns. Rather, this situation posed an issue of choice and, ultimately, of wealth and control.
As we processed through this situation together, we discovered that their decision to forego breakfast was a direct correlation to the options that lay ahead. The guys knew that in a matter of hours, we would land in Singapore, a place of choice and abundant options, and eat whatever our heart's desired. This provided our guys with a sense of control and security that a person without choice could never know or experience.
A person who lives in poverty and what I want to call 'choicelessness' cannot choose to forego a choice like food. In actuality, it is the exact opposite. That person is at the mercy of an unchosen option made by the wealthy. I made a decision. You name it: I decided not to eat all of my meal, donate my money, give my time to serve, which means the poor — someone without choice — may now partake of my unchosen option, i.e. the poor eat leftovers, the poor now have money, the poor are not able to do something that they once could not. The poor does not have a say in the option. They are merely at the mercy of the wealthy.
This insight has radically shifted my paradigm of the poor. I used to think whether I admitted it or not that poverty is an ontological part of one's self. Most of us think this way. We see a poor person, and we see the poor and not the person. But Kerry's words relocated for me the definition of poverty from that of an ontological aspect of one's humanity to simply an economy of choice. Yes, people are born into poverty, but it should never define someone as in race or ethnicity. Rather, poverty should only be understood in terms of economy.
Perhaps the question that Christians must ask of Jesus is not how do I use my checking, but how do I use my account of choice?
QUESTION: In what way can you either share or give up certain choices to those without? What does it even mean to 'give away' your choice?