Not Pity Poor: Grace of the Life Lottery's Runner Ups
fortitude and perseverance forged in a hard place
We don’t choose the circumstances we are born into. Life's lottery is ruled by chance, not fairness, and it assigns entirely random lots. Having picked up a winning ticket, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of people have not. Life isn’t about money (although most of us need some) and neither is the life lottery – it is about opportunity, a choice in life and access to resources like education, healthcare, food and shelter. I don’t think we should all have the same, but we should all have the same opportunities. The people you see in this collection are poor, but not pity-poor. There is no need to label any of them “poor thing” and take away from their tremendous strength and bravery and grace forged in a hard place. There is much joy and happiness in their lives. However, their struggle to get by is an injustice considering the abundance of resources in this world and how others feast on it carelessly. Maybe some have worked hard to get where they are; but given an advantageous starting point and lower hurdles, there is little merit in the steps they took. It is this false sense of entitlement that keeps us from shaping a world where opportunities and resources are distributed more evenly. Pity is misplaced here; awareness is welcome and so is action. There are many ways to even out the chances of a slanted life lottery – from fighting disadvantageous global policies that hinder the empowerment of impoverished communities to donating or engaging in a social cause.
glimpse: LIFE LOTTERY | Since I took this picture in Chennai’s V-House Triplicane Slum, I’ve looked at it many times. For long moments I stared at it and had the hardest time writing a caption. There is so much I would like to say, but I’m choking. However, if I let the image just speak for itself, it might be misinterpreted. The viewer might toss these kids in a cliché-box in a far and easily forgettable mind-corner. 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 bravery 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 digitally-consumed cousins in the West. Having less is not the problem here; but, having so little that food, shelter, hygiene, healthcare and education are daily struggles is an injustice considering how easily they are accessible to others. Pity doesn’t help these kids. Awareness and action does. There is little merit in most of us being where we are and a false sense of entitlement keeps us from redistributing resources and opportunities in this world more evenly, from us, the life lottery winners, to these kids, 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 beauty-craving 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 and grace in the townships, no doubt; but people’s happiness is up against vast inherited sufferings and struggles. Many here live ambiguously between smiles and frowns, amid light and shade.
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 you, where nobody gets a handout, where education and opportunity are scarce, where the odds are against anybody changing any of these circumstances, one finds 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 fluffily 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. 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, yet change thrives on telling truths. If the ones far atop stepped down a little, those at the very bottom could climb a lot. Maybe then both would come to find that a good place to be is the middle, where basic needs are met and aspirations of happiness replace the longing for wealth.
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