Wednesday, October 19, 2011
We don't know much about her, but we know enough. Our financial support helps Srustina go to school, among other things. And I know that through her picture, she provides a good deal of support to me, though not of a material kind. Whenever I begin to add up the multiple projects that need completed around the house, the oil changes that are needed on the cars, and countless other items, I see Srustina's postcard on our refrigerator and realize that mine are first world, "1 in 3,200" problems.
Perspective is an elusive state of mind. It's difficult to maintain amid the bombardment of messages and pieces of information we receive on a daily basis, many of them creating demand for a new product or service or lifestyle. (And yes, I recognize the irony of that last sentence being written by someone in the advertising industry.) And it's even more difficult to keep when legitimate concerns such as health care bills and college education begin to creep in.
But when I look at Srustina or hear about something like this, I'm given a moment of clarity about my state in the world relative to others.
Which brings us to the news of the day, the movement known as "Occupy [Fill in Location]." The protests that started in New York several weeks ago have spread across the nation (organizers claim even global support), including our little hamlet of South Bend.
These kinds of political protests always draw my attention, as much because of their people-watching value as my professional background. Drawing definitive conclusions about the kinds of people who show up at these things is always a tricky prospect. (Though the poll mentioned here is interesting.) On the one hand, there's the fellow on the right (probably the only time he's been referred to in that way) - clearly an ideologue who engages in this kind of thing pretty regularly. Then there's also people like those described in the South Bend-based story linked above - folks who are just plain frustrated with the way life has turned and looking for answers or a place to vent.
We can draw a distinction between the two, but I wonder if someone in Srustina's shoes could do the same. I have to think that if we transported her or anyone among the multitudes of people on the planet living on a dollar a day or less and dropped them in the middle of an OWS protest, they wouldn't be pointing out political or sociological nuance.
Instead, they might look at the clothes the protesters are wearing, the cameras and mobile phones used to document and share the experience, the food the demonstrators likely brought with them, and the clear evidence that the crowd had been through school. They would notice the fact that by and large, the protesters are allowed to assemble peacefully without fear of reprisal. Our visitors may take note of the manner in which the protesters leave their posts - in a car they own driven to a residence that includes a TV, air conditioning, heat, and a pantry that by the world's standards is full of food.
They would see all this and turn to ask one of the group, "You want more?"
My point is not to belittle the OWS cause. And it's even less to suggest there are not real problems faced by real people in this country for which a solution must be found. I fully understand the pain and helplessness of the unemployment line and my heart truly goes out to those in that situation today. Rather, mine is a call to occupy a proper perspective as the solutions to these problems are explored. A reasoned, rational perspective.
I recognize the difficulty in such a thing when we're dealing with something as emotional as a person's ability to provide for his or her family. Desperation is a poor negotiating tool, yet it's all many seem to be wielding these days. And that's unfortunate, because given our circumstances, it's as unnecessary as it is unproductive.
Just ask the Srustinas of the world.
You feel me?