Saturday, May 10, 2008

Privilege, Ownership, Poverty

I own a lot of things. This fact is troubling to me sometimes when I take the time to dwell on it, because I’m not sure I’m entitled to own the things I own.

I take something as simple as the bamboo floor mats I bought for my room, purchased at Target. They cost maybe about $70 for the set which now reside on my bedroom floor. I bought them because I didn’t like the feel of the cold tile floors on my feet in the winter and because I wanted something to make the room look more furnished and cozy. They were on sale. They weren’t very expensive. They make the room look very nice and suit the purpose. Still, although I bought them about five months ago, I question this purpose. If I was truly living a simple life, would I have bought them? Could not that $70 have been better spent helping others in more dire need? And there are many other questions that trouble me. Here is a list:

Was the money really mine to spend? What I mean by that is:

a) Did I truly earn/deserve the money required to make this purchase?

b) Should I be spending money when I have (education) debts?

c) Should I be spending money on a something frivolous when my brothers and sisters in humanity are starving, thirsty, in dire need of medical care, etc?

Secondary questions that concern me are:

d) Am I only able to afford this item because of unfair/exploitive labor practices?

e) What was the ecological impact of my purchase? Am I adding to my footprint?

f) Who is profiting from my purchase? Who is losing?

Tertiary questions:

g) Are my motivations pure? Is there an alternative that is cheaper, or more socially conscious that I am overlooking because of ease/laziness or vanity?

h) Would I care for the item and utilize it fully if purchased?

i) Will this item be in keeping with a spirit of simplicity, solidarity with the poor, and detachment from worldly things?

If I made myself answer all these questions before every purchase, it is very likely I would cut back considerably on my spending and perhaps save my money for more worthy causes. This is a high standard to hold oneself to, I know. But still, Jesus said: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

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