Friday, November 07, 2008

An issue of mindful speech....

There's been an issue of mindful speech lately that I need to speak up about.

Now that change is in the air and there is a desire to balance inequities, I'd like to suggest a change of terminology which will lead to a change in perception.

I've heard many speeches over the past few days about "helping those less fortunate" and "the lesser among us".

This makes me grit my teeth.

Let me be very clear about something ~ and you are hearing it from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

As most of you know, I live on an amount of money that is below the federal poverty level.

Poverty, yes. In strict economic terms. There is nothing "poor" about me ~ not intellectually, emotionally, physically or spiritually.

There is absolutely nothing "unfortunate" about me. And I'm sure as hell not the "lesser among us".

And I'm sick and tired of being referred to that way. It's offensive. And demeaning. And condescending.

There's a tendency to "other" us, to make us something "less than" in both use of language and perception. If you believe this perception exists for any other reason than to allow some people to feel "better than", think again. It's subtle.

We care about the same things. We just don't have a lot of money.

We enjoy a good book, a good conversation, a good joke, companionship ~ just like everyone else. We just don't have a lot of money.

We love, we dislike, we are happy, sad, exhilarated, frustrated, excited or angry, just like everyone else. We just don't have a lot of money.

We are not downtrodden, unfortunate, less than, pitiable or pathetic. Not any more than anyone else. We just don't have a lot of money. Eliminate those expressions from the national discourse.

If there is true dedication to change the way we perceive each other and the way we are going to evolve as a society toward inclusiveness and compassion, let's start with that perception, that use of language. Let's start with the way we talk about each other.

If perception is reality, as Whitehead would have us believe, we are creating that reality with language that denigrates an entire segment of the population.



Anvilcloud said...

I might be accepting of "less fortunate" but not "lesser."

molly said...

I think some very smart, intelligent people [some very close to my heart,] are so turned off by the consumerism in society that they end up with less material wealth than is considered average. It in no way means that they are "lesser" beings than the rest of us. In many ways their rejection of materialism indicates that they are more tuned in to the deeper reasons for our existence.........

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I also cringe whenever I hear the term "lesser among us." It IS offensive, elitist, and based entirely on evident wealth, which is not only demeaning but totally misses the greater truths about any person so designated.

Christy said...

I think we tend to demonize those in power over us, too.

All are one.

Thanks Obama and McCain, too, though.....if you really carry it out......and sometimes it is hard to really live that.

Words are important.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Is there a phrase you prefer? I ask because sometimes it is necessary to refer to the "group."

Cecilio Morales said...

Among the euphemisms for "poor" I get annoyed with are "disadvantaged" and "low income."

However, I think that there are a variety of reasons for someone like Obama, who does not exactly come from privilege and to whom the term "elite" does not fit, might use some of these terms.

I don't know you, Chani, but you come across as a highly educated person who grew up in upper-middle class comfort. You may be temporarily receiving an amount of cash that falls below the federal poverty guideline, but you are not disadvantaged.

The majority of people who cycle in and out of living below even 200% of the poverty line have educational, health and other deficits. There are loads of statistics about that.

There is a social problem of poverty -- that is being aggravated by a growing inequality of incomes -- and I think that's what the complicated words and phrases are about.

Ian Lidster said...

I'd never thought of it in that context. And, of course, you are absolutely right, despite the fact the phrase may be well intentioned.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chani,

I have to go back and read a recent post I did to make sure I did not use those words...LOL

Surprisingly, it was never used at all...nor it's semblance...but I was describing the needs...and what needs to be done/ provided.

Though you have a point here, I'd like to think that is not the intention when they coin the word, it was more of taking the situation as something not the fault of the person..thus...not so fortunate in a sense. Yet, I also do not use those words...I think simply bec we do not use it at home.

I remember that story about a young man asking a person (who appears to be homeless) if he needs anything...and the reply was, "Don't we all?" So I always remember that...thus we are all less in some ways... ;)

So, how do we term this then? Economically challenged? Or, we say, people within this range of in this community...etc?



ewe are here said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

I agree. We too are living below the poverty level, and don't feel particularly deprived. Sure there are things I want and can't have, like satellite connection for the computer, and more books, we eat well, are warm, have plenty of time to read, think, and enjoy life. I have no complaints. If I could have anything, it would be health care, but hopefully some relief will be coming soon, and I don't have that many years before I'll be eligible medicaid or whatever. We really need to stop labeling people. Not everyone is into conspicuous consumption. A book I just read "Deep Economy" says that studies show that after about $10,000 in income, people stop getting any more happy with more. When basics are met, we don't find joy in more stuff essentially. Americans are more unhappy than most all of europe and a good deal of the rest of the world. All have a good deal less than we do.

S said...

yes indeed. i'm right there with you on this subject.

Leann said...

Well said Chani.

Joan said...

You are absolutely right of course, our monetary standing has NOTHING to do with our worth or our value as human beings...
Jesus owned nothing... enough said!

Anonymous said...

Good point Chani!

Carla said...

Very well stated. My father was brought up by his single mother. They had very little money, but my father said that he never ever felt poor, that he had a rich childhood. It was rich with culture, with friends, with conversation. His view has always been that sometimes those with money are the ones who live in poverty...that a mentality of poverty doesn't always have a lot to do with money. We also grew up within a Norwegian culture and there is a certain attitude that we are only as strong as our weakest link. Therefore it is everyone's duty to try and raise others up, be caring and help out wherever we can. But it's not looking at someone and saying, "they're poor." It's more, so and so might appreciate this. Whatever is given comes back to us, so we never really lose anything. I like that.

DivaJood said...

Chani, well said. Like you, I am currently living on a substandard income - because I chose to leave a job working for an abusive, megolamaniacal employer and steady paycheck for independence. I've got a MFA in Sculpture and Painting; I read; I love film and literature and theater and dance; I just don't have any savings and I am behind in my mortgage. This doesn't make me "less fortunate."

Greed has never been a huge part of my plan or my life. I've had all the money marbles and chalk and wasn't as content as I am now - yes, I've got concerns but there is something so relieving about not working for a bully.

Language is essential, and one of the things I love about Obama is that he restores dignity to conversation; he refuses to demonize those with whom he disagrees; he treats everyone with respect.

I'm big on reclaiming our language.

LittlePea said...

So true and so well said. Words are very powerful. I always cringe when I hear anyone complain about political correctness. There is nothing political in being mindful of what one says, it's about human feelings. It's about thinking before opening ones mouth, something I sometimes don't do very well.

I wonder why we still feel the need to "label" everything and each other?

Mary said...

Often, the "financially poor" lead more enriching lives. That's the real truth.

Anonymous said...

To me, there is a hige difference between the phrases "less fortunate" and "Lesser among us." The latter is patently absurd and offensive. But if "less fortunate" leads people to be aware that economic means or access to opportunities and resources is not equally distributed and is based more on luck than anything else, it might then lead to some desire and intent to help other people. That would be to the good.

Billie Greenwood said...

Some of my friends use the phraseology "those who have been made poor" to indicate that poverty is sometimes a factor of oppression and not voluntarily chosen or involuntarily accepted as a byproduct of another choice. I've recently adoped it too.

I appreciate your post and look forward to any replies you may have to these comments. Hope you'll let me know if you have any feedback on this phrase.

Woman in a Window said...

I'm wondering what terminology you favour. I'm with you, I just wonder. I mean, I'm with you on the we have less money front as well. But we do eat and have a home and my kids have plenty of toys. We just don't have an X-box, an SUV, an annual trip to Disney world (thank god) but to be sure we do have more than we need (even though officially poor.) But I do know people less fortunate than us. I call them neighbour but what should policy makers refer to them as? Really, just curious.

thailandchani said...

Anvil, it's a hard one. In my case, I don't necessarily see fortune as involving finances. I think people who don't have much money are just people who don't have much money.


Molly, I agree. Even the comments here mention how much happier people are when they live simply.


Susan, amen!


Christy, that's a good point. McCain was very gracious and gave a good message during his final speech.

The main thing is just to get away from equating lots of money or lack of money to 'fortune'. Fortune would indicate favor from the deities?


Ruth, I prefer "people who don't have a lot of money". No reference to anything else unless it's something else that's being addressed.


C, you are correct about my background. But to be totally correct about my case specifically, I was "disadvantaged" when I was sitting in a huge house in Los Angeles. I'm advantaged now because I've found more peace and meaning in my life. I found it though. It has nothing to do with "fortune". It has to do with my making the effort to find it.

I created my life. It isn't a result of whimsy.


Ian, we all know what road is paved with good intentions. :)


Mariposa, I think acknowledging that some people don't have a lot of financial resources without any underlying implication of character would be good.


Ewe, thank ewe! :)


Feather, I like the way you expressed this. I likewise don't feel "deprived". I have what I need... maybe not always what I want.

My housemate drives an Infiniti.. and I like her car very much. It's an expensive car. If she gave it to me, I'd enjoy it. Of course. I'd hardly say I'm "deprived" because I don't have one though.

It's all a matter of how we think about ourselves.


SM and Leann, thanks. :)


Joan, that's my real point. And we really need to get away from using language that implies some character deficit.


Starr, thanks. :)


Carla, I think that's correct. I felt more "poor" when I was living in one of the wealthiest parts of Los Angeles than I've ever felt since.


Diva, I'm with you! I'm broke for the same reason you are. I couldn't stand the pressure cooker I'd been living in which was sucking the soul out of me. Freedom is much greater wealth than any amount of money.


Miss Pea, exactly! It is just mindfulness and really understanding the energy and meaning of words.

I once told someone who told me I shouldn't get upset about such minor things - that words are just words - that n****r is also "just a word".

Words matter.


Mary, that's absolutely true!


Citizen, I hear what you're saying.. but there's got to be a better way. Compassion is wonderful. I don't think condescension has to be a part of it.


BE, I hope you come back to see the replies. :) "Have been made poor" is an important cultural distinction. Many people are "made poor" by the values and determinants of human value decided in any cultural context. So.. as a macro term, I think it's really good.


Erin, I know people "less fortunate", too, but it has nothing to do with their financial situation. They are people who are empty inside, chronically dissatisfied and unaware of the power of their own choices. I'll have to think about it more though.. because I'm not even sure that fits into the category of "fortune".


Shimmerrings said...

Hi, thanks for dropping by my blog. I like your attitude. My significant other (not married, live together) is always talking about how poor he is... he tells everyone that he is poor, all the time... well, I have even less money to spread around, yet I don't go around saying that I'm poor... I may be stretched a bit, financially, but I also believe that we "have what we say"... and that if we make statements, such as he does, then we are creating the energy for just that.