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Poverty Among Friends

  • Posted on July 22, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Lately, I’ve been looking for commonalities. Often, in discussing the issues of autism, Asperger’s, and other disabilities among cohorts, one of the complaints frequently aired is the apathy of people outside of these cohorts. It seems people without direct, familiar contact with a person with a disability are not likely to be interested in discussing disabilities, especially not a particular disability.

I don’t presume to know how these cohorts broach the subject, but lately I have tried to discuss the issues of interest to me with a variety of people of different backgrounds, interests, and stations. One of the ways I found to successfully broach the subjects I am interested in is by easing into the conversation through a subject of mutual interest. (More on this project in the next post.)

Despite the optimistic reports, we live in an economy that is still reeling—at least at the individual level—from the aftermath of our recession. It’s true that painful examples of poverty have always been among us. But now that pain is more common as people who are used to being able to find good-paying jobs no longer can. I can think of at least a dozen people who are experiencing that pain through direct, in-person connections. That number goes up exponentially when I add various sources of internet connections.

People are feeling the pain of poverty. People who did not grow up in poverty are experiencing it for the first time as adults. People are feeling the pain of job loss and the inability to find a suitable replacement job.

This is a feeling that is more common among people with disabilities than the average population. This is a connecting point that makes a natural bridge for conversation.

A lot of people know someone or have been someone or are someone who has lost a good-paying job in favor of either nothing or something that pays significantly less than they’re used to. This issue means something to them. When you then turn that issue just a little bit and express the chronic state of employment in relationship to disability, then you open eyes, you open minds, and you open hearts.

I know the pain of poverty. I know what it is to aspire to sufficiency, and have it seem out of reach. I know what it is to aspire to prosperity, and have it seem a lost dream. I know the power of compassion, empathy, and understanding. If we understand and empathize with the experiences of others, then we can express our own experiences in a way that bridges the gulfs between us. In the process, we discover those gulfs were merely a step away.