THINK ON THESE by Henrylito D. Tacio

“Once poverty is gone, we’ll need to build museums to display its horrors to future generations. They’ll wonder why poverty continued so long in human society – how a few people could live in luxury while billions dwelt in misery, deprivation and despair.” – Muhammad Yunus, Ramon Magsaysay awardee


Wala nang mas hihirap pa kaysa maging mahirap,” so goes a popular saying.  It simply means there is nothing much harder than to be a poor person.

“One of the greatest misgivings of one being poor is the stigma attached to him by society,” wrote Manuel B. Garcia and Leovigildo O. Militante in their book, Social Problems.  “He is usually pictures as a lazy, incompetent, and irresponsible person.  He is not supposed to mingle with others whose socio-economic status is higher than his.”

Most people believe that poverty is the reason why malnutrition is widespread in the country. Malnutrition, which refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients, is one of the biggest health problems most Filipinos, particularly the young ones, experience these days. 

Poverty is also the reason why the following diseases are common: tuberculosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, mental illness, mental retardation, blindness, peptic ulcer, rheumatism, and asthma.

Crimes like rape, robbery, and murder abound because of poverty.  Prostitution, drug abuse, and teenage pregnancy reportedly flourish because of poverty.

But are these claims for real?

“Until the lions have their historians,” an African proverb states, “tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.”

Nearly half of the total population of the world are poor, statistics showed.  However, experts classify poverty in three manners: extreme (or absolute) poverty, moderate poverty, and relative poverty.

People who cannot meet their basic needs for survival are living under extreme poverty.  “They are chronically hungry, unable to get health care, lack safe drinking water and sanitation, cannot afford education for their children and perhaps lack rudimentary shelter – a roof to keep rain out of the hut – and basic articles of clothing, like shoes,” explained Jeffrey D. Sachs in an article, “How to End Poverty,” which he penned for Time magazine.

Extreme poverty, which Sachs calls as “the poverty that kills,” exists only in developing countries.  

In moderate poverty, the basic needs of people are met “but just barely.”  Being in relative poverty, defined by a household income level below a given proportion of the national average, means “lacking things that the middle class now take for granted.”

This brings me to a story shared by Clifton Fadiman about Socrates.  Knowing the frugality of the philosopher’s way of life, a friend was surprised to discover him studying with rapt attention some flashy wares on display in the marketplace.  

The friend asked why Socrates came to the market since he never bought anything.  “I am always amaze to see just how many things there are that I don’t need,” Socrates answered.

Poverty, however, does not make a person.  Ever after becoming an internationally recognized statesman, India’s Mahatma Gandhi persisted in following an extremely spartan lifestyle.  He wore the simple clothes of the poor, traveled on foot whenever possible, preferred staying in the slum areas of the cities, and always used the cheapest class of railway travel.

In view of the danger to which such behavior exposed Gandhi, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the British viceroy, expressed surprise to an eminent member of Gandhi’s party on one occasion at a railroad station.  He was told that all the Untouchables in the carriage had been carefully selected and checked by the security services.  “You have no idea what it costs to keep that old man in poverty,” he was told.

To end this column, allow me to share a story that was sent to me through electronic mail.  I don’t know who the author, so I can’t give to whom the credit goes:

One day, the father of a wealthy family took his son on a trip to a rural place; he wanted to show his son how poor some people could be.  They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.  As they were returning home, the father asked the boy, “How was the trip?”

“It was great, dad,” the boy replied.  The father asked again, “Did you see how poor people can be?”

“Oh, yeah,” the boy answered abruptly.  “So, what did you learn from the trip,” the father inquired.

The boy answered, “I saw that we have one dog, and they have four.  We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our yard, and they have a creek that has no end.  At night, we have imported lanterns, and they have the stars.

“Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon.  We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight.  We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.  We buy our food, but they grow theirs.  We have walls around our property to protect us.  They have friends to protect them.

The father was tongue-tied and flabbergasted.  Before he could say anything, the boy concluded: “Thanks, dad, for showing me how poor we are!”

The anonymous author has this to say: “Too many times, we forget what we have and concentrate on what we don’t have. One person’s worthless object is another’s prized possession. It’s all based on one’s perspective.”

As Jeffrey Sachs said it bluntly: “History is written by the rich, and so the poor get blamed for everything.”

I have nothing to say! – ###