Saigon Stories – Thoughts on Poverty

For most of my life I had defined poverty as having little monetary means. I would look at how the “poor” lived in the ghettos and slums and the violence that raged there.

However, speaking with a good Vietnamese friend yesterday at an extremely modest, (those in the west would say poor) beer hoi I came to a different conclusion.

In the West I saw the violence that went on and thought that most people who lived in the poor neighborhoods were unhappy. In the west this might actually be the case. They look up to the middle and upper-class and see what they have and consider themselves poor. If one were to lose most of the material possessions they have they might also consider themselves poor since they have lost something….. I recall Sally Struther’s plea on T.V. to give money to those that “earn less than a dollar a day.”

In Vietnam, a majority of the population does live on less than a dollar a day. Yet not a day goes by when the majority of these people don’t smile. Perhaps there are not enough Westerners here yet to tell them that they are poor and shouldn’t smile. Perhaps there are not enough westerners to tell them that they need more money to be happy.

The conclusion I came to yesterday is that “poverty” is actually a state of mind and has no bearing on monetary means at all. If one considers themselves “poor” then they will be poor. If one considers themselves rich then they will be rich! It is a fallacy to bring money into the equation.

When we are young we are taught that “money is the root of all evil” and that people can be rich in other ways excluding money which might be rich in mind, family, or mentally. Yet this is form of thought is rarely put into practice as much as it is in Vietnam.

I look at those in America driving their cars to work everyday and who’s sole existence is to earn more money and a feeling of sadness envelopes me. They continually look to what they don’t have instead of what they already do have. It is unfortunate that this is the most prevalent form of thought in most “developed” countries.

When I compare the “poor” in America, they have very nice housing, cable t.v., air conditioning yet still consider themselves “poor.” If by some chance they were to all be given a mountain of money, yet others had more, I’m sure they would still consider themselves poor. Therefore, the only way to escape “poverty” is to simply stop thinking ones self as poor. Education is often quoted as the key to escape poverty and this is valid.

But the problem is that most people see education as a way to make more money when they should really think that education is valuable in itself. One could have absolutely nothing yet be so profound mentally that they could wile the day away changing the world. A few historical figures come to mind that lived this sort of life: Jesus Christ, Buddha, Gandhi etc.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/

1 comment

  1. eh – probably the best way to define poverty is lacking the ability to pay for what you need – but then you have to define need. In truth, you need clothing (dammit – still trying to get that changed), food, and clean and dry shelter for you and your family. Aside from that, you don’t really need much at all. However, that might sum up the poverty discussion here in the States. We’re taught that we can be anything we want, do anything we want. Then advertising makes the fluff of life into a need. Ex: Right now I need an LCD projector with a special screen so I can watch Dallas on an 8’x8′ screen. To me, this is a need and I will have it satisfied. But, in reality, watching them on my 27″ TV is certainly adequate. Add up enough of these ‘needs’ and one starts to feel poor.

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