I was awakened this afternoon after a particularly rough night by yet another phone call from a collection agency asking for money.
The woman sounded pretty young. I told her what I tell everyone who calls looking for money. There isn't any. I have been disabled for 3 years with no income, there is literally NOTHING to give anyone.
Her response? "Then how are you still alive, if you have had no money for 3 years?"
Ooof. I fear I blew her off with a brusque "other people have supported me". She grumbled and the call ended.
As I lay there thinking about it, I nearly called her back. Because that REALLY is the question, isn't it?
It is certainly what a lot of people are thinking, even if they don't have the balls to say it. If you truly have no money how are you still alive? Or even "WHY are you still alive?"
The answer is because people who love me didn't leave me to die. And people who care about people gave me free medical care. And food banks are awesome places that need more support. And you find out how little you need to live on when you have to do so. And not having to go to work every day means you can wear that underwear and those clothes until they are rags and nobody knows.
But this question came at the same time that friends have been debating the use of the word privilege to convey a concept, as well as its offensive use in online debates and discussions.
Which brings me to my current cogitation. It really is less about privilege and more about the base assumptions that we are working under that determine how we interact with the world and others in it - and how we react and form our opinions about things.
If your base assumption is that your own personal experiences are representative of the experiences of others, then that will certainly have a huge influence on your world view.
Assuming that everyone else who works hard, goes to school, is law abiding and polite will have the same experiences that I do is working from this assumption.
Assuming that anyone out there could potentially become disabled and struggle as I have comes from the exact same assumption.
And truthfully, both have a little truth and lot of generalization. But they are what we use to form both opinions and ultimately public policy. Public policies are derived from sets of assumptions:
Assumptions ultimately form the basis for decisions about what we as a
society decide people "deserve". Whether we "earn" our safety net or or
whether the safety net is provided to us as a right. And those same
assumptions also color very much our attitudes about how that safety net
is used. Who decides? Does the person who gets the check get to decide
how it is used or the person who writes it? What are the implications
for either? Can I get lace panties with my check or only cotton briefs?
Can I get fast food or only eat healthy things?
Assuming that the current public safety net is adequate and anyone who falls through obviously either does not qualify or is an exception.
Assuming that if people are struggling is it due to poor decisions they made.
Assuming that if someone wasn't left to die in the street then obviously they have some money to pay their debts.
Assuming that those who ARE in the streets are rich con artists/alcoholics/junkies/lazy.
Assuming that people have the intellectual wherewithal, access to records/fax machines/computers, and most importantly that people have the TIME to spend three years filing, refiling, meeting deadlines, endless doctor appointments, and eventually hiring the lawyer who is required to get disability benefits.
How do you live for three years with no money?
You abandon your possessions, your credit rating, your pride, and often your dignity.
And ultimately you live because people who love you don't let you die.