It’s really interesting how many ways communication can take form. Communication is the primary way we build relationships with each other, whether it be through face to face conversations, mailing a letter, sending an email, text, or Facebook message. Communication is a vital part of how the world turns and how communities are built. I would dare say if communication ceased to happen it would be the destruction of humanity, for we are created to interact with others, not live in complete isolation. When it comes to our friends, family, and colleagues, we tend to acknowledge the importance of communication and present ourselves as active communicators. In other words, when communicating with someone I care about, I’m going to intentionally be more engaged. There are also other times that we communicate only to obtain goods or services. We tend to do this when we are ordering a pizza or calling a taxi. These interactions are normally quick and do not require much work or energy. Our expectation of having a deep and meaningful conversation with the pizza delivery driver is minimal. We understand up front that our dialogue with this person is simply a means to an end or to acquire something – there is no investment – it’s just a one and one done scenario.
So you may be asking, “Randy, what does this have to do with poverty?” I am glad you asked! More times than not, when I observe how the general public communicates with individuals experiencing poverty, it’s pretty much non-existent. If communication is the way humanity survives, and even in some cases thrives, then why are we so resistant to communicating with the most marginalized and vulnerable group in the entire world? Why do we find it so difficult to intentionally have a conversation with someone who we may see every day? Is there a fear of having to share a life? Is there a fear of possibly being more like them than we think? What drives us as a society to not communicate with certain groups solely based on their socioeconomic status?
Not to paint with broad strokes, but there are some individuals who communicate with those experiencing poverty but only for obtaining goods and services – like our interaction with the pizza delivery driver. For example, many only acknowledge those in need while serving in a soup kitchen, clothes closest, or food pantry. Yes, there is communication going on, but it is based on a transaction. It goes like this: “I’m going to talk to you so you can receive food, warmth, and basic healthcare, but please don’t speak with me in public.” More times than not, communicating with individuals experiencing poverty can only function when placed in a controlled environment. Another form of communication is directed towards panhandlers. These conversations are mostly negative, saying things like they are lazy, intoxicated, a burden on society, a bum, or with simply a glare. Some people communicate by self-gratifying and patronizing ways with those in poverty, which is never helpful. One thing that our friends experiencing poverty do not need is our pity. More times than not, they need to know they are important enough to have a conversation with. Each one of our friends we live life with has dreams, fears, goals, hobbies, likes, dislikes, and the yearning to be a part of something greater than themselves. Isn’t that the same thing we want as a society?
Surprisingly enough, we’re not that different from the person who is served on the other side of the steam table or flies a sign outside of Walmart. With Walking Tall, we believe the ability to communicate trumps obtaining a job, a car, or housing; these are not the things that will end poverty. The ability to communicate while building community is what will ultimately pull someone out of the poverty cycle. Every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 am, we gather at the Gazebo downtown on the Cape Fear River to have lunch (anyone is welcome!) – but more so – this is a time to have meaningful conversations and invest in friendships. The food is simply a vehicle to converse with friends. This month, think about ways you might be able to communicate with someone who’s experiencing poverty or join us for lunch to see it in action. Think of some ways you are able to share a life, for when you enter that world, you will never be the same.
Love hard, embody hope, and walk tall.