Here in the United States I’m a solid member of the 99%. My family and I eat when we’re hungry, pay our mortgage, own plenty of clothes and our children have access to a good education. However, we don’t feel par ticularly wealthy.
As I’m sure many Friends did last year, I resonated with much of the frustration expressed by the Occupy movements around the country. I feel frustrated and help less regarding the growing gap between rich and poor. I feel angry that nearly all politicians represent special interests and corporations who pay for their campaigns. I’m indignant that those on “Wall Street” so often live with such little regard for those on “Main Street” and that they are rewarded monetarily for this ill regard.
Yet, when I look at the wealth and poverty scale of the world as a whole, the picture looks much different. According to the Global Rich List website’s calculations, my family’s income puts us in the top 1% of the wealthiest people around the world. The website states an annual income above $47,500 is in the top 1%. We are not wealthy by American standards. Only one family member has a full-time job and we make do with hand-me-down clothes and thrift store finds. Yet, compared to the rest of the world, we truly have nothing to complain about!
The first thing I notice is a deep sense of gratitude that my needs are met and exceeded each day.
I also notice, while I allow myself to articulate and sit with my feeling of injustice regarding my place low down the ladder in the United States’ 99%, I’m more fully able to turn this around and see from the perspective of those outside of the United States. I know what it feels like to be a victim, to be treated unjustly, to try everything in my power to advance my economic situation, only to feel it’s all I can do to tread water. How much more desperate must this feel to those without the luxury of familial and/ or governmental safety nets?
Lastly, I wonder about our calling as Friends within this conversation. Our rich heritage shines with examples of generations of Friends standing against economic and social inequities in their own times, of Friends changing their own lives in order to live more justly and promote equal opportunity for all people. What can we do today?
For me, it begins with a change in perspective. As part of “the 99%,” it’s easy to live in fear that there’s not enough, that the 1% will take it all; that I need to grasp at every chance to promote myself and to create opportunities for my family’s advantage. But with this perspective shift I feel called to let go of this grasping, to trust that there is enough to go around and that certainly I have enough. I’m challenged to not see the conflict as an “us against them” battle, of the 99% pitted against the 1%, but as a spiritual practice where we all learn gratitude and cooperation, where we listen to one another’s needs and supply them.
Perhaps this sounds overly idealistic. Perhaps it is. But so was the idea of a democratic society in the first place; so was the notion of an end of legal slavery in the United States; so were humane mental institutions and prisons. We enjoy a legacy of Friends who lived their ideals and brought them closer to becoming a reality.
Can we see ourselves as part of the 99% and part of the 1%? Can we break down the walls that divide us be tween rich and poor? Are we willing to take radical steps toward economic equality in ways that may challenge our expectations of what it means to have enough? Can we listen to the Spirit in our time and hear the loving critique of our lifestyle in a way that calls us to action as a Society?
When not chasing her two small boys around, Cherice Bock is an adjunct professor at George Fox University and its Seminary. She is a life-long Friend from Northwest Yearly Meeting. She and her spouse, Joel, also sojourned in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting while she attained her M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary.