Who are the rich people not understanding poverty?

I get visits from all over the world. Today, someone from Nigeria read “More rich people who don’t understand poverty“. It made me pause and think about how we think about poverty, and how the definitions change depending on context.

Poverty in NZ is very different from poverty in a third-world country. Their poverty is absolute. There’s no dressing it up, it’s as dire as humanity can experience and still survive. I wonder if they have the same attitudes to poverty that many New Zealanders have. Do they blame the starving for their starvation? Do they feel ashamed of struggling to survive? I wish I knew. And I feel unsettled for wanting to understand absolute poverty from in front of a thousand dollars’ worth of technology. Is it a bit voyeuristic? Or is it just an interest in how people think and how they live? Possibly it’s a bit of both.

Poverty in New Zealand is nothing compared to absolute poverty, but that’s not to say that it should be written off because someone has it worse. Being poor here is still awful. Living in cold, damp homes (sometimes cars, when things get bad), not having enough to eat, having to choose between paying the power and paying the rent – it’s affluent misery by comparison, but misery just the same

The ‘others have it worse’ argument is a great way of shutting down discussion on poverty in our own back yard. That’s not doing anyone any good, apart from those who want to kill the dialogue.

And all the while I imagine my Nigerian reader looking at what we think poverty is and laughing at us.


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