One of the hardest things for me to deal with is the poverty and misery in Britain. These days, that British poverty mindset drags me down on an almost daily basis, this belief and attitude that anything that you consider doing is “daft”, a “waste of time” or “above your station”, this pervasive conviction that you have to be obedient and patient, that you have no choice.
It did not used to be like that for me at first in Britain. If it affects me this badly after my years in Britain, you can imagine how it impacts people who have been living here all their lives and may never have set foot in another country.
In my home country too, there used to be this idea “wie als dubbeltje is geboren wordt nooit een kwartje” en “iedereen die met zijn kop boven het maaiveld uitsteekt wordt genadeloos afgehakt”. It is one of the reasons why I didn’t like my home country, this idea that everyone has to stick to a mould and not dare to be different, or excel. It’s not the same, but there are similarities.
Apparently, most Brits don’t like it when someone is very confident and enthusiastic, but confidence and enthusiasm are nothing to be embarrassed about. To the contrary. Maybe confidence and enthusiasm sometimes get confused with snobbery and arrogance?
As I began typing this post, one of the homeless people outside was singing what sounded like a self-constructed creation and I realized “shit, it sounds like she has plenty of creative talent”.
But after a lifetime of having been pushed into the gutter – okay, in her case there is probably also a drug addiction; meth and alcohol may be two common addictions here where I live – her experiences have taught her that the gutter is “where she belongs”. (3 August: yes, have meanwhile seen the guy shooting up.)
(Alcohol and meth abuse can be escape mechanisms, of course.)
A large proportion of Britain’s homeless people aren’t addicts but people who lost their home while holding down a job and who continue to work in spite of being homeless.
There is also a large group of people who survive on benefits, but who will never get a job in their current situation and who are slaves to the cruel whims and cracks of the whip of the Department for Work and Pensions. How do you change that slavish attitude, this idea that people’s only choice in life is to be subjected to abuse and misery?
There have been experiments in which scientists threw rats in water and kept them down, making the battle to get out of the water futile. After a while, the rats that had been held down no longer struggled to get out of the water, even if they weren’t being stopped by humans. They had been taught that “they were powerless”, no matter what. (Humans are mammals, like rats, but they are larger.)
There has been quite a bit of work in that area – learned helplessness – and the results can often be summarised as follows.
“Repeated exposure to inescapable misery has been shown to impair subsequent performance with regard to escaping from escapable misery, whereas repeated exposure to escapable misery does not produce such effects.”
That is what Britain’s poverty mindset is about. Britain’s inequality.
“We become what we think about all day long.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Britain, inequality really gets its claws into poor people. How do we change that?
Here are some links about changing the poverty mindset:
Environment is everything. So if you can’t change the environment literally, you have to change it figuratively.
Start by changing how you talk to yourself. Stop using phrases like “I can’t afford it.” because that reinforces your feelings of powerlessness.
Instead, say things like “I don’t need it” or “I’ll find a way.”
Instead of buying lots of cheap things, particularly when it comes to clothing, choose to save, and buy one quality item that is more expensive but will last much longer and make you feel good about yourself, also when you go for a job interview.
Being able to buy something, anything, may make you feel less powerless for a moment. True. But when the thing you bought breaks down or the clothes you got fall apart, you feel miserable again. (Good quality is not the same as expensive, and expensive things can be low quality, but good quality is rarely cheap. Heck, you know that just as well as I do.)
Try to avoid dressing in a way that is a constant reminder of your poverty. That does not have to be expensive either. Dress in clothing that you like and in a way that you like.
And above all, ignore the criticisms from the people around you, the “she’s gone shopping again” comments and remarks about the “fancy” way you dress. Good quality is not the same as fancy or fashionable anyway.
What I would like to see people do who know their way around in Britain better than I do is, for example, that they find people who are stuck in badly paying jobs similar jobs with employers who care about their employees and who pay them properly.
There is of course also the fact that many people who are chronically ill or disabled are locked into poverty in Britain, and often trapped in their homes, unable to go outdoors. That’s different. This is a situation in which unpaid volunteers can make a big difference. I wonder when the DWP will finally start paying out the huge sum that it underpaid in past years and how long it will take the DWP to do it.
Here are two more photos of my departure for Florida. I had two very hectic weeks behind me requiring a lot of quick improvisation). My hair looks fairly freshly henna-d.