Not Pity-Poor: Grace of the Life Lottery's Runner Ups

fortitude and perseverance forged in a hard place


  We don’t choose our birthplace. Life's lottery is random, not fair. Having picked up a winning ticket, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of people have not. And while I don’t think we should all have the same, we should all have the same opportunities. The people you see here are poor, but not pity-poor. They have less – much less – but they have lives and smiles like anyone else. They don’t need an outsider’s soft pat on the back to uplift them – their grace and strength have been forged in a hard place. But that place is hard by design, and we need to redesign it and drop our pity-forget-pity-forget-routine. As individuals who have the power to shape government policies and private sector practices, we need to change the consumerist structures that hinder the empowerment of impoverished communities.


a glimpse


glimpse: LIFE LOTTERY | Against all intuition, this is not a picture that speaks for itself. It doesn’t tell the whole story and is easy to misinterpret. One might toss it into a cliché-box somewhere in the mind’s attic, where it gathers dust quickly. Yes, these children are poor, but they are not “pity-poor.” They oughtn’t to be thought of as “aww these poor kids.” It doesn’t do their strength and fortitude and grace any justice. It denies them the agency to make the best of a hard lot. They have lives. They play, they laugh. Probably more than their spoiled cousins elsewhere. Having less is not the problem here; but having little or no access to the most basic resources, rendering food, shelter, hygiene, healthcare and education daily struggles, is a fundamental injustice. Pity doesn’t help these kids, nor does indifferent awareness. Only action can level out the odds of an arbitrary life lottery. We don’t choose the circumstances we are born into and there is little to no merit in where we end up being when given a winning ticket. A false sense of entitlement keeps us from redistributing resources and opportunities in this world more evenly – from the life lottery winners to the runner ups.

glimpse: 20 YEARS AFTER | Tucked away in-between Cape Town’s plush waterfront and Stellenbosch’s fine wineries, the Cape Flats aren’t exactly glamorous. That’s why they are easily overlooked by tourists even though their ample expanse makes them hard to miss. Everybody had hyped up South Africa and Cape Town as heaven on earth, but nobody had mentioned the abysmal disparity. I was taken aback by how segregated the country still was, 20 years after apartheid. The institutionalized oppression had left societal trenches so deep that they undermined social and racial equity at every step. There is plenty of joy in the townships, no doubt; but people’s happiness is up against vast inherited sufferings and struggles, which can overshadow the most beautiful smile with a frown.

glimpse: ENTREPRENEURS | In parts of the world where people work towards the next meal and not success, where they have less than little, where visions are lived from day to day, where no government backs them, where nobody gets a handout, where education and opportunity aren’t givens, where the grip of circumstance is firm and the odds stacked against change, you find resolute, resourceful and meritorious entrepreneurs at every corner.


glimpse: RAGS & RICHES | From rags to riches is a tale aspired by many, materialized by few. It suggests that anybody can climb the economic ladder, regardless the rung they start from. It highlights hard work and determination, while leaving out opportunity, education, and luck. Let’s be real, not fluffy. We live in a world where the many rags likely stay rags, and a marginal minority goes from riches to richer. Orderly segregated by a fence, one climbs on deck of a yacht, while the other keeps sitting on the ground. One buys, one sells. Telling tales soothes, but change thrives on telling truths. If the ones far atop stepped down a little, those at the very bottom could climb a lot. The middle would be a good place to meet for both, because there is such thing as too much, not just too little.










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