Socioeconomic Sensitivity

As we move through this “holiday” season and into 2011, approximately 800,000 people are being cut off from unemployment benefits. We are going to be witnessing many heart-wrenching stories. There will be those who lose their homes, their vehicles, and worst of all, their sense of hope. While extreme poverty on this planet calls our hearts in the most profound of ways, let us not forget even the “middle-class-persona” children who may be bullied and/or lose opportunities because of their inability to have the materials necessary for their talents to thrive. Here is a piece shared by a man as he reflects on his early high school experience in the 1970’s, a time that was similar (but not as daunting) as these economic times. He was one of six children and his family was suffering financially:

“We couldn’t afford cleats. I was so disappointed when I was told that we couldn’t afford to get me cleats for the upcoming football season. My friend, Mike, from my previous neighborhood, was nice enough to five me an old pair of cleats he had. They were worn down to the nub but they were better than nothing. There was a new coach this year. I was a bit disappointed about that because the coaches from the previous year knew a little about me and I thought that they would give me a shot at a skill position. The new coach placed people in positions pretty quickly. I found myself on the defensive line. I was the smallest kid on the line. I didn’t like being put up there at all. Why didn’t I get a chance? I was a good catch. I threw well and ran well. It wasn’t my decision, though. So I played the best I could against bigger kids. In fact, I ended up starting at defensive tackle. It was ridiculous. I was so small compared to the other lineman. I did alright in spite of my size. Somehow, I could find a way to outmaneuver the slower guys across from me and I used my body well for leverage. During practice, I kept throwing one big kid to the ground in drills. The coaches kept yelling at him and I kept doing the same thing to him. Eventually, he pleaded with me in private to let him win so he could get out of the drill. I’d already done my job so I went ahead and let him block me. I felt good about myself that this bigger kid a year older than me saw no solution but to ask me to let him off the hook. So I was defensive tackle. I remember one game where we really needed someone to make a play. I was determined. I managed to break through the line on a pass play and had the quarterback right in front of me for the sack. I had him. He tried to avoid me and as I planted my foot while grabbing him my feet slipped right out from under me. I had no spikes on my cleats. They were practically flat. If I had had the right equipment, I could have made the play. Instead, I slipped and skidded on the turf and blew a golden opportunity. I cursed the fact that I couldn’t have decent cleats. It made me look stupid. I probably didn’t get a skill position because I looked clumsy slipping all over the field. God, how I hated being broke. We couldn’t afford vacations, we couldn’t afford the nice things other kids had. And worst of all, we couldn’t afford my damn cleats. I think it made me a bit angry at my parents. It made me look stupid on the field and that really burned me up inside. I was better than that and I was at a disadvantage just because of my flat cleats.”

This is a poignant piece that speaks to the inner experience of a youth who is attempting to strive in an environment where other kids take for granted that articles of their craft/sport will be provided for. His family got to the point where they ate only rice for a couple of weeks on several occasions, yet nobody knew and there was no place to turn to for charity because the family was prideful and they “looked and acted” as if all was well.

I hope that we can be sensitive to those who not only suffer from a lack of very basic needs, but for those who have “hidden” socioeconomic concerns and who may be feeling shame among their peers and in other social interactions. Just a thought for this time of year when American consumerism can often dominate the capacity for the true gift of compassion.

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