I recently gave Spent a go and got really grateful. If you haven’t heard of it, Spent is an online “game” created by the Urban Ministries of Durham to realistically illustrate what it is like to walk in a poor person’s shoes. It opened my eyes and my heart.
I began by deciding whether I wanted to be a server, a warehouse worker, or a temp. And that’s the last relatively easy choice I got to make.
The goal is to make it through one month, and although I was able to do it, I wasn’t happy with some of my behavior – one scenario found me opting out of health insurance because I couldn’t afford it, then ignoring chest pains because I couldn’t take time off work to go to the doctor, or afford the cost of seeing a doctor. Another had me hitting a parked car and needing to sneak off because I couldn’t afford to fix the stranger’s car. In real life, I’d leave a note with my contact information. But guess what? This is real life for a lot of people.
I am unable to sit here with this awakening and not act. It’s only by the grace of some greater power that I’m not needing to live on $9 per hour, or worse. I can feel gratitude in my relatively comfy situation, or I can act on that gratitude. I’ve already contacted my local area food bank so I can attend orientation and begin to volunteer my time there. I had to calm myself down first. Time? What time? I don’t have the time to volunteer! Well, I will find the time. I will rework my schedule. I’m self-employed and that’s one of the benefits – flexible schedule.
With my self-imposed scheduling crisis solved, I pondered the question of how to help the poor. Of course they need money and supplies, right? But why are they poor? What is causing the money trouble? Do they need help budgeting? Can they not keep a job because they can’t afford transportation? Are they spending the money on drugs or alcohol? I ask myself why, not to judge them, but to discover what sort of development might be helpful to them as a way out of being poor. Sure, money is an act of mercy, but continuing to give money without any signs of progress from the person being helped turns into enabling and can breed resentment.
And what about the folks who just will not help themselves or won’t accept outside help? As I ponder these questions I feel hopelessly inadequate and begin to feel the enormous weight of the problem. It’s easy to armchair quarterback, but I need to get onto the playing field and get a little dirty to discover answers to these questions. I am also acutely aware of my language. I keep referring to the poor as “them.” I don’t think the emotional distance that affords is a good thing.
Are you interested in feeling, at least for 10 minutes, what it’s like to be in a poor person’s shoes? Can you manage the resources and the problems to last a month in their world? Go ahead, take 10 minutes and see how you do. And let me know, k?