Lessons from a rickshaw driver and one way that Veronica Grace keeps herself in tune with those less fortunate.
There is a story going around facebook about a rickshaw driver named Bai Fangli. When Bai retired at age 75 went home to his village and discovered children who could not afford to go to school. So he returned to the city and continued working for 15 more years, living in simplicity that would be shocking to most people in the United States. He wore only clothing others threw away and ate food that others had discarded, not because he couldn’t afford to buy food and clothes but because he felt that giving that money to the children was a better use of it.
There is an interesting phenomenon in the United States. The higher someone’s income the less they tend to give to charitable causes. When higher income people do give, they give very little to causes that help the down and out. They tend to give to the arts, or a college instead of to food pantries or homeless shelters.
There are different theories on why that is. Some people assume that wealthy people are jerks so it makes sense to them that even with the tax deduction, they wouldn’t give at the same rate as lower income people. Even I am cynical enough to wonder how many higher income giver’s donations begin with a discussion with a tax person about tax breaks.
There is evidence that may go against the “Jerk Theory.” This NYTimes article, points out that Paul K. Piff found that if you show people a sympathy-eliciting video that the disparity between higher income and lower income giving disappeared. One theory to explain this is that being wealthy insulates you from seeing suffering, while the lower your income the more suffering you see around you. They even did further research and found that people of higher incomes that lived in diverse income neighborhoods gave more than people with the same income who lived in homogeneously wealthy neighborhoods.
The unique makeup of my neighborhood means that there are three ways you can get to my house. One of them is through an expensive neighborhood, one is near an apartment and a strip mall and the other goes along the area in our town known for homeless people, and prostitutes. That route then goes past a mobile home park so trashed it wishes it was a rundown trailer park.
When I drive through the expensive neighborhood I notice how small and plain my house is. When I drive past the strip mall and the apartment complex I notice how generic my neighborhood is. I make it a point to drive the ugly way home.
There are days when I drive past a homeless person and it hits me how unnecessary the crap I just bought at the store is. There are days I drive by a woman looking so hopeless and broken I cry. There are days I drive by the trailer park and see so many people suffering in so many different ways that I feel hopeless about our country and how many people fall through the cracks. Most days it makes me feel helpless in the face of such deep issues. There are no easy answers for the people there, no quick fixes or ways to save them.
Some days when I drive by I remember that when I was born my mom brought me home from the hospital to a somewhat nicer trailer park. After my biological father left she needed public assistance and food stamps to help make ends meet while she worked as a waitress. Then I count the blessings that I can bring my sons home to a safe place.
Driving the ugly way home isn’t comfortable. It brings up emotions, it brings difficult questions from my sons, it reminds me that things don’t always work out ok.
I’m no Bai Fangli, but when I drive the ugly way home I notice how huge and safe my home is. I come home with my heart open, my gratitude engaged and a renewed focus on figuring out what it is I am meant to do in this world to help people who are suffering.
Photo: piccadillywilson / flickr