Thursday, August 29, 2013

Empathy as a By-Product

Over the years, one thing I've learned is that the more luxuries one has, the more difficult it can be to empathize with or truly serve those who suffer involuntary, material poverty.  That is one of many aspects of voluntary simplicity that appeals to me.  Social justice is a core value of mine and I aspire it to be a bigger part of my life going forward.  But I cannot truly serve those I do not understand, and I cannot relate to those in need if my life is so materially luxurious.

As  you might imagine, the recent shift in our family that permits me to stay home with our kids comes with a lot of financial sacrifice.  Our family income is dropping significantly.  And we're having to switch medical insurance from my employer to my husband's.  Unfortunately, their insurance is much more expensive than the one we had before.  It turns out that confluence of events means that a significant percentage of our household income will now go just to paying the premiums for our family's medical insurance. 

Initially, this dynamic really freaked me out.  I told my husband I was worried the numbers didn't work.  He's a (former) CPA, so I trust his math and his financial analysis.  He told me confidently, "I've run the numbers over and over.  We're frugal.  It is going to be fine.  But we are going to be like average families now.  Average families in the United States pay a crazy percentage of their income on medical premiums." 

His words really hit home with me, and I've been thinking about them every day since he shared them with me several weeks ago.  In our previous life, we had a lot more cushion in our family budget.  Though I've always been sympathetic to the poor, that cushion insulated us from many of the day-to-day challenges that most Americans face.  I feel like I've already gained a huge degree of understanding and even greater respect for those who have already been facing these challenges involuntarily. 

The moms and dads who go to extreme lengths to make the math work to put food on the table for their families are heroes, whom our society does not even feign to honor.  Instead, we often blame them for their poverty and vilify them.  ...Ah, but that is a different blog post for a different day.

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