Friday, October 28, 2016

Ponder: "to widen our lens"

“Almost everyone, including the well off, can be moved to care about the less fortunate and less powerful, in spite of whatever effects wealth may have on them.  Individual stories help.  Exposure helps.  Just paying attention-to the waitress, the person in the crosswalk, the cleaning staff in the corridor of the conference center—helps.  Imagination helps, too.

I know a man who runs a large, urban affiliate of Habitat for humanity, a nonprofit program in which low-income families build their own homes alongside community volunteers and then buy the houses at a reduced rate.  On the first day of construction, he tells me, retired guys from the suburbs itching to break out their power tools show up to work with the future homeowner, often a working single mom with young kids who’s never been on a construction site in her life. ‘They have nothing in common and no idea what to do with each other,’ he says.

But the weeks go by and one guy shows her how to use a circular saw.  Another man helps her perfect her swing with a hammer.  They suffer together stapling up itchy pink insulation on a 100-degree day and freeze on the frosty afternoon they put up the siding.  There is lunch, and laughter, and eventually a house.  ‘And on the last day, when I stand on the front porch and look out over that same group that didn’t know what to do with each other only a few months before, it’s a completely different vibe,’ he tells me.  ‘It’s just-‘ He pauses, like he knows this is going to sound corny.  ‘It’s just love’  She’s better off, and so are her kids.  But so are they.

It’s an uphill battle for the well-off to fight the effects of wealth on their minds, to consciously step out of their circles and pay attention to the places where dinner is not certain, where keeping the lights on is a struggle, where a trailer park is a place real people live, not a punch line.  Perhaps all of us who do not worry about where our next meal is coming from could stand to widen our lens."

Karen Weese, “How to Tell if Someone is Kind?  Ask How Rich They Are.”  The Washington Post. 23 Oct. 2016, B2.

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