When you look at this photo what do you see? Do you see a young professional? Someone who is well off? Someone put together? Now, place her in line at the grocery store, with a cart full of juices, cake mix, chips, and other goodies in her cart. And the card she pulled out of her wallet to pay is a EBT card from SNAP (otherwise known as food stamps). Where did your mind just go-- did your assessment of her change? Did you suddenly look more closely at the foods she was purchasing, and question her poor choices in food? Did you think "what a waste of my tax dollars right there?"
There are a lot of assumptions we, as humans, make on small amounts of information. Did you stop and think why she was making those choices? Have you ever thought there may be more to the story than what you are looking at in this one moment in time? What if I told you the phone in her hand is paid for by her Mom. That beautiful purse? It was a gift for her birthday or bought at a secondhand shop. Those clothes? Borrowed from her sister so she could look nice for her 5th job interview this week. And those groceries you were sneering at? It's her daughter's birthday. She can't afford to get her a present. She wants to make sure her daughter feels normal, like all the other friends in school who have birthday parties with cake and ice cream and snacks.
Being poor is hard. It takes a lot of energy to deal with the obstacles not having enough creates. Choices can be difficult, think about the realities of our food market. Healthy, nutritious foods can be much more expensive than cheaper foods with little nutritious value. When you see things like this, can you relate?
Programs like SNAP, WIC, and others are designed to supplement and aid in feeding those that are facing life challenges. We know that poverty affects health. Poverty and chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, the list goes on. Access to quality health care may also be affected. Which means you get sicker. So you may have a harder time working. Which increases your stress because you have to choose between food and other basic necessities. Which decreases health. Do you see the cycle forming? Here is the thing though, how much more stress are we inadvertently creating when we judge someone, whether with words or even body language? We perpetuate the stigma of utilizing these and other programs to help you get back on your feet. You've seen it happen; the young mom at the grocery store paying for items with WIC. The glares she gets for holding up the line, the sighs and antsy feet from the people behind her, the scowls from the cashier having to input the WIC checks, the comments made under the breath about "those people living off the government".
Now, walk a mile in their shoes. What is worse: the empty refrigerator and a child begging for food, or being looked upon by your community members like gum stuck to the bottom of their shoe? There has been a lot of discussion here at PRFC recently about being poor vs. poverty. Is it an adjective vs. a noun? Is it a state of mind? Or is it how you are made to feel? Is it a state of being vs. being viewed as a statistic or number? The judgement, the intolerance, and the shame are further disenfranchising the very same people who simply live in a state of need and are trying to create a better life for themselves and their families.
We've heard the arguments and seen how easy it is to pass judgement--"they don't want to change, if they made better choices, if they learned to budget". Does it matter? Do those questions see the whole picture or they the product of snapshot moments? It's not easy to stop judging, but to take a phrase from Paul Harvey--"The Rest of the Story"--when you feel yourself falling into those judgments, think about what the rest of the story may be. And how you would feel if the the shoe was on the other foot.