Lack of empathy for people in a less fortunate situation annoys the hell out of me. There’s an election coming up soon in New Zealand and if I hear one more time that everybody has the same chances and choices I’ll scream. They don’t. End of story. My family wasn’t poor but we didn’t have a lot of money and when I decided I wanted to leave school at 16, without any qualifications, my parents didn’t fight too hard for me to stay. If I was working they didn’t have the expense of sending me to school and I could contribute to the family purse (I seem to remember that bit didn’t always work out too well!).
My teachers wanted me to be a journalist but even at an early age I knew I could never be a door-stepper, couldn’t inflict pain on anyone deliberately, couldn’t do many of the things that a successful journalist has to do. So because I closed that avenue to myself and nobody advised me of any other avenue, I couldn’t see anything else to do other than leave school. I got myself back on track but a lot of it was because my mother has always been very inspiring and always encouraged us to have a dream.
Everyone needs inspiration. Most people who are poverty stricken have no room for inspiration in their lives. Every day is a struggle just to get by and day follows day in exactly the same manner. Everyone deserves to have colour in their lives but when putting food on the table is your number one priority it doesn’t leave much room for the pretty stuff. And when the cost of everything, except wages, keeps going up, how do you cope with the feelings of desperation and inadequacy?
How can people aspire to a better life if they’ve got no experience of what a better life looks like? When I was a teenager I had a friend who lived in a house with no bathroom. They didn’t have enough chairs either, only milk crates. My friend came to stay at my house most weekends, just so that she could clean the bathroom – of course my sister and I were delighted to let her. A few years after that she enrolled on a construction course and she built a bathroom in her parents’ house with her own two hands. More than 30 years later, I’m still so proud of her for that.
As an aside, what I vividly remember about going to her house is that her mother always had a particular brown bread and honey roast ham because it was my favourite. It never once bothered me that I had to sit on a milk crate to eat it because she did this just for me and I loved her for it.
It’s just not possible for every single person to be a get up and go-er, to be ‘successful’. Success means different things to different people anyway. Money doesn’t motivate me at all. I like to work, I like to do a good job and I’m happy being a PA – I’d hate to be the boss and have the responsibility that goes with it. And that doesn’t make me lazy or not worthy. It means that I have different priorities – the things I do outside of work are more important to me. Things like writing.
I get so angry when people go on and on about the economy as if that’s the only thing that matters in a country. What about the greedy employers who get away with paying minimum wage and see nothing wrong with that? Do they not SEE their employees? Not notice their shabby clothes or their pale faces? Not notice that they don’t go to the doctor when they’re sick? Does it never occur to them that they’re paying less than the person is actually worth? They really don’t seem to care and it breaks my heart.
I’ve come to the conclusion recently that there are enough people like me out there, even if we’re in the minority, to give me hope that all is not lost. There’s a Living Wage movement in New Zealand http://www.livingwage.org.nz/ and I’ll be voting for a party that believes in what’s fair and just.