seen on fb tday:

“Why low-income parents may make “poor choices”” by Teo You Yenn, an associate professor in sociology at NTU. That’s the news today.

She wrote that her research for three years has taught her two important things. First, “everyone makes bad and good choices, but the conditions and outcomes of those choices are not equally bad or good for everyone.” She explains this by saying: “People with extra money and social capital can mitigate the consequences of “bad” choices, but people without those buffers face severe consequences over time.”

Her second point is “about parents’ investment in their children’s well-being, in a society where “investments” that do not involve money are valued less than investments that do.” This is her elaboration, which I find illuminating.

She said low-income parents love and devote to their children as much as rich ones. But “their devotion to their children is more difficult and requires more of them” as compared to well-off parents.

She wrote, “many have long, inflexible work hours in physically taxing jobs. They have multiple dependents, heavy burdens of housework, and additional labor due to being low-income (for example, going to the post office weekly to top up their utilities credit). Parents face great financial stress, worry about food, clothes and shelter. While the better-off in Singapore complain about children having excess tuition and enrichment classes, low-income parents lack the resources to provide those things, which are not only necessities for succeeding in the school system, but also keep children occupied. Most poignantly, low-income parents need their children to listen to them at the same time that they tell them “don’t be like me”.

Sadly, and ironically, most low-income parents may think they are “bad examples” for their children (as compared to the wealthier and smarter high-income parents). But in my book, their children should be equally proud because of their parents’ sacrificial love, selfless humility and a contrite heart. For don’t we all agree that a good education and amassed wealth are no guarantee of a better humanity?

Lesson? A sobering one. It is a call for our society to be more understanding and compassionate. It is said that the more we understand, the more we forgive. In this case, it is the more we understand, the more we will be for giving, for assisting, and for embracing.

I recall a case where the father was a taxi driver and he was resting in his cab one early morning in a proper parking lot when a car rammed into his back. It was driven by a young driver who was drinking. The father became paralysed and died 15 months later. He was the sole breadwinner.

His meager income was taken away from the family of 4. He had a daughter who passed away a few months before him. She had brain tumor at 13. Then his son could not bear with the pain and sorrow and chose to withdraw from school, studies and society.

The mother of low education is now his only hope of recovery and re-integration. She once admitted to me how helpless and useless she felt.

We should always be reminded that no one wants to be poor or remain poor. Poverty is not a lifestyle choice. Not everyone is born into riches, inherits a fortune, blessed with academic smartness, excels in business ventures (most times with more luck than business acumen), or strikes a jackpot lottery.

 

However, here’s how I think a caring society will be like. It is not so much an equal society with equal opportunities and rewards. We all know how meritocracy can mutate into guarded elitism with a gated community of privileged upbringing and a lifetime supply of silver-spoons.

A caring society is one where our understanding transcends the material pursuits of life. It goes way beyond this emphatic declaration by Donald Trump: “I’m rich, I’m famous and I have everything.” He is forgetting that by having everything (because of universal scarcity), it means that most of us will have close to nothing. In fact, the era of Trump is a throwback or regression into a time where we allow our baser instincts to rule blindly over humanity’s nobler, transcending, and timeless values.

In the end, a caring society is an internal revolution of the heart and mind. And until an employer sees his employee as more than just a unit of production, a political nominee sees his voters as more than just a means to get into office, a philanthropist sees his charity drive as more than just a campaign for self promotion, and a parent sees her child as more than just an extension of her pride, ego and unfulfilled dreams coming alive, it will just remain as a society with a limp trying to move forward towards our better selves but is nevertheless drawn like flies to light towards our worst. Cheerz.

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