Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sticking with the prophets

For every new dollar generated in Canada since 1999, 66 cents of that dollar has gone to the wealthiest 20% of families. For every new dollar in real wealth generated in Canada since 1999, the upper middle class captured 23 cents, while the bottom 60 percent of families had to settle for the last dime.
(Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, April 2014)

I woke up this morning to my usual radio show announcing that the wealthiest 86 individuals and families in Canada have the same net worth as the poorest 34% of Canadians -- and it was enough to make me want to cover my head with a pillow. But I got up and looked up the report above (click on its title and you can see it for yourself) because I wanted to know how it was possible. After reading bar graphs compiled from Stats Canada information and skimming the rest of the report, my heart was heavier than ever. Knowing that those wealthy 86 could buy all of the privately held assets of several Atlantic Provinces and still have billions to spare (p.10-11) isn't something to brag about in my books. Basically, it means that too many people are living below the poverty line while too few are living the high life. What about solidarity and equity?

The report goes on to recommend closing loopholes that allow the very wealthy to avoid paying taxes on capital gains and increasing income tax in the higher tax brackets. But my recommendation would be that every one of those top 86 wealthiest families and individuals could meet and hang out with someone like Maria, a client who came into the Clothing Room when I was volunteering there last week.

Maria and I hit it off right away because, of course, we both have the same name. She hadn't been into SSVP's clothing room for over a year, and she came because she and her man had defaulted on rent and been kicked out of their apartment. Because all their possessions had been left behind, she stopped at Sobey's to get a few grocery bags to bring to SSVP to fill with clothes... and while at Sobey's, she spotted five gorgeous roses that she "just had to buy." As I helped her find things she needed, I noticed the floral package and commented on it, and she said, "I just needed something pretty today, so I bought them." She opened the package so I could see her roses: white, yellow, coral, pink and red, and I oohed and ahhed appropriately, and called another volunteer to have a look. 

That's when Maria decided to give the flowers to me. "No one appreciates them at my rooming house. They all judge me for buying flowers. They don't understand how I need beauty. So you have them." I protested that they were hers, that her rooming house needed beauty too, but she was insistent... and how long does a person protest a gift before insulting the giver? I gave her a hug and found a vase for the roses, setting them out on the registration desk for everyone to enjoy. "They look nice there," she said, stopping to smell them before taking her bags of clothes and heading out the door. "Be sure to enjoy them."

The top 86 wealthiest Canadians could use some people like Maria in their lives. Her generosity even in her poverty is a sign that we shouldn't hoard what we have, but share it to the best of our ability. She reminded me that relationship is more important than possessions, and that though wealth is often a wedge that divides people, solidarity and love are the glue that hold us together as a human family. As my favourite humanitarian says:
The poor are always prophetic. As true prophets, they always reveal God's design. That is why we should take time to listen to them. And that means staying near them, because they speak quietly and infrequently; they are afraid to speak out, they lack confidence in themselves because they have been broken and oppressed. But if we listen to them, they will bring us back to the things that are essential.
-- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 186. 

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