Embracing Poverty


“It is simpler just to be poor … the main thing is not to hold on to anything.” – Dorothy Day

We’re in an economic slump. A recession, the economists call it. While the Midwest has been relatively safe, we’re about to see the effects in a big way. The state congress will soon release the budget cuts for regents schools, and this will be felt by the town at large.

What’s the solution? It is said we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always control our attitudes; in this line, I would like to propose to you something radical. If you should find yourself in a position of relative poverty, then do not dismay; take it instead as an opportunity.

Here I will define “relative poverty.” Let me say that it’s simply a level below where we’d like to be.

This is also not to say, don’t work. Work, obviously, but do not strain yourself over the fruits of you labor. Forgetting about your wages is the greatest way to break free from the depression that follows receiving that $200 pay check “because there just weren’t enough hours to go around.” One cannot live off of this, you say, but people do so on less everyday.

While The United States’ poverty line is roughly $11,200 a year, the international poverty line is $365. Maybe a recession is exactly what we need to turn our focus elsewhere. Perspective. Yes, a hamburger costs $5, but buying a pound of hamburger and cooking it yourself costs $1. That’s enough food for a day. Then there’s the question of how much do we really need to eat?

In Eastern spirituality, they practice fasting on a regular basis. This is not just one day but days without eating. They carry this to its logical, anti-materialistic sentiment in the Katha Upanishad: “Man cannot be satisfied with wealth.” This means, give man more and he will want more.

If you’re a Christian, Jesus’ greatest victory – his battle with Satan – took place during a fast in the desert. He chose morality and his God over the material rewards offered to him. And we say we’re a Christian nation? I wonder how many in this country truly believe “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God?”

The benefits of embracing poverty for the spiritual person, from the East or West, are clear in this light. Therefore, let me now address the atheist and agnostic. The logic here is lowered expectation. If we consider disappointment to be inherently bad as it causes unpleasant emotions, then to avoid this is inherently good. The good of humility becomes clear, because you can’t win an argument with a humble person. If you make them meeker, they are winning their own game. If I hoard my money and you take a penny from me, I will be broken. If I don’t and you take everything, I will be unburdened.

To put this practically: Today, I have a 15-year-old car with an indestructible frame, and while I have to provide regular maintenance, it’s rarely more than $600 a year. If a tree falls on it tomorrow, as happened a year ago, I won’t have to get all twisted out of shape that my car has scratches and bent metal.

Some people are getting new cars for graduation. I wouldn’t wish a new car on my worst enemy. A new car is something that loses all its value the first mile you drive it off the lot, that has very high insurance costs and makes you worry about parking next to other cars lest they bump it with their door. Thanks, but no thanks.

We can hold onto our consumerist mentalities and be very sad about all the brands falling by the wayside, or we can take this as an opportunity to grow towards the nonmaterial side of life.

Steven Miller is senior in English. Please send comments to opinion@spub.ksu.edu.