“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
How many people in our government, making decisions impacting huge numbers living near, or below, that poverty line, realize how lucky they are to be on the right side of that dividing line.
How many in the administration of our country truly understand the knot in the stomach when someone has to choose between getting a severe wound stitched versus buying food. How many understand the despair of losing possessions.
I’ve heard some say things that lead me to believe they don’t have a clue how most of us get by. Consider how many are said to be living two paychecks away from homelessness or bankruptcy.
If you are a subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, you can look forward to the Friday section, called Mansions. There are those in today’s administration claiming $300 or $600 a week or month will take away the motivation for recipients to work. The people they talk about can barely afford their rent and necessities. A large number who can’t, are on the streets, homeless. But that Friday section listing mansion for sale serves as a stark reminder of how disconnected those with wealth view the world. Compare the living conditions to citizens with modest means, to the mansions listed, private mansions priced in many millions of dollars. The rich are, indeed, different.
Oh, I forgot. Those people are poor because they don’t work hard enough, or save enough, or weren’t lucky enough to have a wealthy inheritance. Pity, that. Oh, and of course, they all make poor choices. That’s why their poor, after all. If they only knew how to budget.
There is an upper-crust that has always covered the pie with sweet icing.
In 1875, aristocrats, members of the upper class, never lifted an unnecessary finger. It was said of Lady Ida Sitwell that she not only did not know how to lace up her own shoes; she would have been humiliated by the knowledge. Winston Churchill’s cousin, the Ninth Duke, while visiting friends and traveling without his valet, or “man,” complained that his toothbrush didn’t “froth properly.” At 34, he had to be told gently that toothpaste had to be applied to the brush before it would foam. His man had always done that, and he hadn’t realized it. “Winston himself lived ninety years without once drawing his own bath or riding on a bus. He took the tube just once. His wife had to send a party to rescue him; helpless, he was whirling round and round the tunnels under London. And all his life he was dressed and undressed by someone else, usually a valet, though during one period by a secretary in her twenties. There are those among his friends who believe that this sort of thing taught him how to use people properly.” *
*Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Volume 1: Winston Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874 – 1932 (Kindle Locations 1636-1643). Little, Brown, and Company. Kindle Edition.
I say, by all means, let’s use people properly.
It goes back even more. Take this 16th-century folk poem.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things, we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.
The great Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Islam and Christian, all suggest, in fact even, impel those with wealth to share with those in need.
Do we continue to worship the gospel of consumerism, capitalism, and the winner-take-all belief? Or do we look to a different gospel? The one that tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, help the sick. And visit those in prison.
That’s a Christian belief, but also echoes throughout Judaism and Islamic similarly-held beliefs.
We have a choice. What’s yours?