Traveling through rural India, you see huts and small towns, groups of women washing clothes in streams, men tending their goats. You wonder at their life—what is it like?
Most of us can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to live on their small income. Sometimes, there is an urge to put your life frame up to theirs and compare
. You wish you could make their houses bigger. Provide more food. Send their daughters to school. Make the labor less trying.
But, what if we are really just grafting our own notions about haves and have nots and quality of life based on our own limited experience? What if we want them to have things that they don’t need or they don’t want? What is really wrong with being poor?
In a conversation I had the other day with a first-time visitor to India, I was asked something to the effect of, “If a person has all that she needs, lives a life off the land, eats the fruits of her labor, rises with the sun—does that person need development initiatives and aid? Are the poor actually unhappy? Or have we created that frame, because we can’t fathom that without Nike and Starbucks, hardwood floors and Scope Mouthwash, this person actually already lives a whole existence?”
What does it mean to be poor? Is it about being too poor to afford basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter? Is it about social exclusion or not being “part of the system”? Is it about being invisible, facing discrimination and marginalization, lacking capabilities? Or is it about something else entirely?
Why do the poor need to be part of our system if, as some believe, they are perfectly happy living outside of it? And do they have the agency and choice to determine whether they live inside or outside of the system?
And this prompts the question: is it a myth that the poor are actually happy living a simple existence?
What do you think? What is wrong with being poor? And taking this one step further, what is the best way to bring the poor into the conversation, instead of continuing to project our emotions and desires upon them?
Join Lindsay Clinton, with Intellecap in Mumbai, in this provocative (but constructive) conversation.