There’s Something Hiding in Inequality… and It’s Good.

(C) Try Tnat

Have you ever dated someone who always wanted to split the bill half half?  It’s only fair, right?  I mean, when you’re both making money, both self-sufficient, both financially independent, why not?  Honestly, I’m sure there are couples who do this and it works for them.  But what if instead you and your partner took turns paying the bill?  In the end, the math for the second scenario is the same as the first: you’ve each paid approximately half of the expenses.  But somehow the two experiences are different.  And while it may be perfectly fine to split the bill, I would venture to say that there’s something more special about treating each other or depending on one another.  After all, in each instance, the one paying gets the joy of loving and appreciating the other through generosity and sacrifice.  At the same time, the one being treated not only foregoes an expense, but also gets to experience grace and enjoy a sense of being loved, valued and cherished.

(C) Disney

(C) Disney

Now, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with inequality.  The reason I bring up this example is simply to demonstrate that there is something inherently blessed about interdependence—depending on one another.  You see, aspiring toward self-sufficiency is great, but achieving it and enjoying it in independence leaves no room for blessing.  Instead, blessing is found in interdependence, in giving and receiving, in grace and generosity, in sharing, in sacrifice, and in uplifting and upholding another.  And while the growing inequality we know today is far from ideal (and absolutely must be narrowed), it does present us with an obvious  opportunity to exercise interdependence.

So far, we’ve only talked about interdependence in the context of parties that are equally self-sufficient.  The situation of inequality, however, dictates that some parties are self-sufficient, while others are not.  Can they be interdependent?  I would suggest that too often we see dependence as a matter of need, as though only “needy” people have reason to be dependent.  But, if we look to our first example, dependence is not strictly about need because neither party had need; dependence is a matter of trust.  A couple of self-sufficient individuals  enjoy interdependence because they trust each other to look out for one another’s best interests.  Therefore, in the same way, income inequality welcomes interdependence, providing “unequal” parties opportunity to trust and look out for one another, and that’s good.

(C) Rolling Stone

(C) Rolling Stone

You see, when it comes to inequality, a lot of us remember the Occupy Wall Street movement and that sense of injustice we felt in discovering just how rich that 1% really is.  Honestly, there is much that can be said about the disproportionate distribution of wealth to this 1% and how that came to be.  But for this post, let’s focus on the other end of the spectrum, to what I consider a much more urgent inequality—that is, the inequality between those who have opportunity to become self-sufficient and those who simply do not.

According to the World Bank, in 2010, 20.6% of the world’s population (over 1.2 billion people) lived on less than $1.25 per day.  Keep in mind that this does not account for those who live on $1.26 per day or even $2.  And while cost of living may be very low in some countries, I have a hard time believing that $1.25 is enough to secure anyone shelter, food and clean water daily, much less the “luxuries” of sanitation, transportation or education. We can sit around complaining all we want that the top 1% holds too much of the world’s wealth, but the reality is that we are still far better off than many.

After all, we have the time and technology to start Facebook campaigns and rant on blogs and internet forums.  We have sufficient savings or paid vacation to stop working for days, leave our comfortable homes and warm beds to participate in protests, picket on paved roads and sleep in purchased sleeping bags in beautiful public parks.  We have no shortage of food, clean water, electricity, basic healthcare or sanitation services and most of us have received at least some formal education.  You see, we may not be part of the top 1%, but most of us aren’t part of the bottom 20.6% either.  We are the relatively comfortable 78.4%.  We are the majority.  And with access to all kinds of resources to help us achieve self-sufficiency—education, employment, family, finances, economic stability, you name it—in the face of inequality, we have an opportunity to extend those resources to others.  This should be an especially high priority given that self-sufficiency is so often quoted as the key to restoring dignity and freeing people from poverty.

$1.25.  Just think about that for a moment.  Most of us have that sitting at the bottom of our purses or pockets.  Most of us spend that effortlessly on a chocolate bar or a can of coke.  If we’re honest, most of us spend far more than that without thinking twice.  But $1.25 (or less) is the daily income for more than 20% of the world.  And while we’re busy deciding between a caramel macchiato and a chai tea latte, the gold iPhone or the silver, others are struggling between daily choices of “Can we eat tonight?” or “Should I get my child’s infection treated?”.  Understand that my goal is not to just make you feel guilty (or to tell you to stop buying fancy coffee).  But I do want to highlight that what others depend on to survive we tend to spend frivolously on chocolate and chips.  I want us to recognise the value of the money and choices and privileges we have.  I want us to understand the opportunity before us to exercise interdependence, narrow inequality, and ultimately eradicate poverty.

There is nothing inherently good about today’s extreme and growing inequality.  Many people are suffering and often they did little more than be born into circumstances outside of their control.  Do you realise that when you were born you were not self-sufficient either?  You didn’t have an education, you didn’t have a job and you couldn’t support yourself.  But someone thought you were valuable.  Someone—a parent, a friend, a teacher—valued you, thought you worthy of dignity, and had resources that he/she chose to share with you, invest in you.  And that was good.  You were blessed.  Your survival, your successes, they are the result of someone having chosen to exercise interdependence.  That someone did not need you; he/she looked out for your interests, created opportunity and volunteered to be someone you could depend on  simply because he/she valued you.  Having arrived in your position of financial independence, will you now sit back and enjoy your self-sufficiency or would you consider extending this sense of value to another?

There are still plenty of people in this world waiting to have the opportunity to become self-sufficient, people desperately in need of basic food, water and shelter for survival before they can even consider education and employment.  Inequality is presenting us a huge opportunity to engage in interdependence and know all of its blessings.  Would you consider your part?

One last thought.  In that glorious day we narrow the gap, can we continue to engage in interdependence, sharing meals together, treating each other and valuing one another?  After all, achieving self-sufficiency does not change the good brought about by interdependence.  And why forego good just for the pride of knowing you could split the bill?

$1.25 may not seem like much, but it’s an entire day’s wage for some.  By donating that same amount each day, you can sponsor a child, giving the child and his/her family access to opportunities for self-sufficiency and freedom from poverty. Check out World Vision or Compassion International for more information.

Amanda Y. Fung

2 Comments

  1. Brilliant perspective. Glad you brought into perspective the idea of those unaccounted for, being slightly above the income bracket qualifying as “poor”, but pretty much live the exact same lifestyle.

    I’m glad that you bring to the attention as well that we have basically already participated in this mentality, but been the benefactor in this for the majority of the time. Sometimes, people just need that little reminder to take that “first step”, and this could be the exact encouragement needed.

    • Thank you for the note, Tim! Glad you enjoyed the article. It’s been great hearing feedback from readers and it seems that many are interested in taking “first steps” as you said. Hope we can keep this discussion going!

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