When I was in my senior year of high school, I was looking for a summer job, hoping to put away a little money for college. I’d worked the previous summer in a hospital kitchen, preparing food trays for patients. This time, I wanted something more glamorous, something that didn’t require a hair net. An ad in the local paper said Avon was looking for sales representatives. My dream had come true, I thought, for I imagined myself sitting in the living rooms of palatial homes, selling lipstick and rouge to expensively clad ladies.
When I met with the company’s recruiter, she said she was looking for someone to canvas an area where the average incomes were well below the poverty line. My face fell when I heard her. I couldn’t imagine making money there. As if reading my mind, she pulled out a chart that showed sales figures from each part of town. The area she was proposing had the highest of any. A 10 cent lipstick, she explained, was an affordable luxury and women in poverty needed a dream. I never forgot the lesson.
In his 1935 short story, “Rich Boy,” Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the wealthy are different from the rest of us:
They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.
The very poor aren’t like many of us either. Having suffered, they can be mean, but they can also be full of compassion. I know because I lived among them when I was growing up. The people I encountered didn’t expect many handouts from life. Maybe that’s why they knew the importance of sharing.
I’m not romanticizing this recollection. When life is hard, people learn that the best way to get through it is by helping each other. The rich are seldom required to learn this lesson. I don’t ever want to be poor again, but povery did make me rich in my knowledge of human nature. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I came across a set of statistics about the rich and the poor the other day.
In 2011, the poorest 20 percent of Americans gave 3.2 percent of their income to charity. The wealthiest 20 percent were far stingier, donating 1.3 percent. (“News” The Week, April 5, 2013, pg. 16)
(Courtesy of www.livetradingnews.com)