Poverty, Compassion and Advocacy

The greatest gift of poverty is compassion – this is something I know and carry in my heart. No one had to teach me. I have always known that “not having” does not mean “not worthy.”

My mom immigrated here. She has never been one prone to excess, except in the area of hard work. My father was ill, a lot, and with mental illness, which in the 50’s and 60’s (not so much unlike today) was not something openly discussed. My birth coincided with one such collapse which resulted in his hospitalization at a state hospital where he received electroshock therapy (without anesthesia) while she tried to keep body and soul together with a 6 year old, a 9 month old and an infant (me). I must have absorbed her sadness and desperation through my pores, because I cannot remember a time when I didn’t understand with every fiber of my being what it meant to be poor. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t feel the drive to make a difference.

Over the past months I have been seeking employment that combines a passion for advocacy born out of my childhood experience with my unique educational background. One of the things they tell you in law school is that if you don’t want to practice law, you can do anything. A law degree opens doors. This may or may not be true – I remain optimistic. I must comment, however, that being a lawyer does not equal being employed.

And notwithstanding all the job advertisements seeking creative problem solvers, being an outside the box (sometimes, even an outside the building) thinker doesn’t necessarily open doors. Which is odd, because everyone agrees that the same old approaches aren’t working. Recently I applied for a job for which I am well suited, if I must say so myself, which I must since they didn’t call. The reason I am told, through intermediaries, is that my skill set is not “exactly” on point. I don’t have the exact experience. The position, so says the ad, requires team building, problem solving, decision making, persuading, public speaking – all skills I have honed through years of legal practice, volunteering, parenting and living.

I am an advocate; it is what I do. I know the stories behind the faces and I can feel, and communicate, what needs to be said to move people to action. But I cannot get in the door. No doubt the folks who have these jobs are well qualified but I wonder, do they really know the difference between policy and action and how urgent a need there is for change.

I do, intimately.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Christopher Barzak
    Feb 05, 2008 @ 05:01:25

    It’s unfortunate but I’ve realized the same thing in the past year: so often it is the well-represented, who do not necessarily understand the unrepresented parts of our population, who administrate without proper experience of those living conditions over which they have a powerful effect. The more things change…


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