Time to Stop Turning a Blind Eye to Poverty

I am writing this post from poolside at a five star resort in Mexico as my children frolic about in the pool. I have the good fortune to be able to take regular vacations of this nature with my children. Every time I do so I am reminded of how lucky my kids are to be raised in Canada, and by affluent parents at that. For children raised in such an environment, we cannot always blame them when they take their material comforts for granted. But far too many adults in our own country take such materialism for granted. We ought not to be so smug.

Those of us in our own country who are middle class or above must stop turning a blind eye to the daily poverty and hunger in our own cities. Yes, poverty exists in every country in the world, but when my son’s school raises money for African aid every year and refuses to sanction a clothing drive for the disadvantaged in their municipality, it is a stunning example of the blind eye of which I speak. I am not suggesting that aid to other countries is not important, but when schools in good neighbourhoods indoctrinate our children with the belief that poverty, disease, illness, drugs and crime are afflictions of faraway lands, it only ensures here at home the perpetuation of the cycle of apathy amongst the “haves” and poverty amongst the “have nots”

Much has been written in the Toronto media of late about guns, gangs and violence, but nobody in the mainstream daily media has mentioned the root cause of most of the problems. Poverty and hunger. And those who complacently think these problems don’t affect them couldn’t be more wrong. It affects all of us. Until we ensure no child goes to school hungry, that they have mentors and role models to show them the benefits of study and hard work,  that we pay those who want to work a living wage, and have an abundance of affordable housing, crime will continue to increase as economic prospects of the marginalized decrease. It is an affront to the dignity of our Canada. Admittedly, it is also much easier to write about than to actually effect large scale change.

But what can be changed by each and every one of us immediately is the way we view our place in society and the arrogance with which we behave when it comes to our everyday lives. Think about the daily minutiae of your life. Do you treat each and every person you deal with throughout the day with dignity and respect? I don’t just mean the people you are forced to such as your clients or your boss, or those you consider to be worthy of your respect, but also the person who serves you your morning coffee at Tim Horton’s, the gas station attendant, the restaurant server, your nanny (I know families who make the nanny cook and eat a separate meal from the family- imagine the contempt for human beings those kids will develop!)  Do you shell out hundreds of dollars a month for a car lease so you can drive a luxury automobile but balk when a colleague hits you up for a $20 charitable donation? Do you constantly get upset about things you have no control over- a delayed airline flight, a traffic jam on the highway? And has your frustration ever changed the situation? Remember that our children learn not by what we tell them, but by watching how we behave. Most of my teacher friends tell me they know long before the first parent-teacher conference of the year what each child’s parents will be like just from observing how a child treats those around her.

Until each of us adjusts our attitude in our daily lives and stops living with a sense of entitlement, the bigger issues our society faces cannot begin to be solved. And even if those larger issues will not be resolved in our lifetime, our own lives will be so much happier and more meaningful if we awake each day with a view to treat one another with dignity and respect. Until then, we risk our children growing up self-entitled and becoming the next generation that continues to look the other way at the less fortunate in our country.