France makes laws to push social responsibility, while US makes laws to screw the poor

This morning I saw an article on my Facebook newsfeed:

“It is now illegal in France for supermarkets to throw away food. They can donate it all to charities, or as animal feed.”

Underneath, as usual, was a list of related articles. One of them had this headline:

“It is now illegal to distribute food to homeless people in 21 cities.”

You seldom get a complete blog post more or less written for you in two headlines, but there you go.

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You look awful!

dreamstimefree_247594I am doing a thing: I am looking at those around me, and I am making an effort to not judge. That guy with the clothes: you know, the one that makes you roll your eyes? I am putting brakes on that eye-roll. That girl with the stuff, you know what I’m talking about, the one that makes you smirk. I am giving that smirk a glare and making it scuttle back into its cave.

I am doing this thing because I have learned that someone, somewhere, is going to do the same about me. They are going to look at my face, and if they want, they will have grounds for nudging a friend with an elbow and waggle an eyebrow in my direction. They are going to spot my shoes, my shirt, my hair, my socks, and I guarantee you “they” will have among their ranks members who will find reason for disapproval.No matter what you wear, how you cut your hair, what makeup you do or don’t wear, you look awful to someone somewhere.

And I am they, to someone else, and I decide to rather realise everytime I feel that impulse to disapprove that among “them” there are also those who think what I disapprove of is great, is desirable, is to be emulated. In that way, I hope to become more and more the “they” who respects everyone’s right to tell the story of who they are through what they look like. I want to become part of the “them” that is a safe space where that story is not ripped to shreds with looks, and giggles, and nasty little bladed comments.

Ha ha, you’re poor!

A good while ago my youngest forgot his house key when he went to school, and had to wait a while at our door for one of us to come home and unlock. Our house is right beside his school so the kids leaving for home were streaming past. When a fellow student saw him there, he asked Nic whether this was his home. When my fella confirmed that yes, it was, the fellow student replied: “Ha ha, you’re poor!”

Nic didn’t tell me about it straight away. He’s like me, needs time to digest stuff that happened before he can decide how to feel. As it was, he wasn’t upset, it was just… weird. What did I think?

Well, I’m afraid it’s true, our house looks shabby. The window frames, sills and electricity box all need painting, it’s single panes rather than double glazing, and a few other signs point to the conclusion that we’re not exactly the Gates family. However, as I explained to Nic, the child’s statement was confusing, it needed clarification. What is poor?

Because while with me being a student we are indeed not rolling in money, our bicycles and cycling equipment are collectively probably worth more than a lot of people’s cars. Micky has top notch climbing equipment, a number of good quality hiking rucsacks, a good quality family tent, and a good quality two-man tent. We could have chosen to spend that money on the appearance of our house instead, but we didn’t. So are we poor compared to someone else in a fine-looking house who doesn’t own these things?

Is rich or poor what your bank balance is? We choose to remain as debt-free as possible. So another family, who chose to borrow money so as to make their house look fantastic, are they rich compared to us? Is it okay if there’s a minus in front of that bank balance, as long as it’s a lot of numbers?

Poor doesn’t even clarify whether we’re talking about money. You can have a poor life, and I most certainly don’t think we have had a poor life. Micky and I have had amazing experiences, have seen sights and sounds in our love of outdoor pursuits which most people never will. I have cycled along a quiet road with cows galloping beside me on their side of the fence. I’ve eaten a sandwich with about twenty of them staring at me (why is it that when I try to think of my most awesome cycling experiences cows come to mind?). Micky has glided up rock faces and stood on mountaintops, swum in clear lakes and seen the world from a place you can only reach through near heartbreaking effort and the sweet elation of attaining your goal. The kids are getting ever closer to having the freedom to travel as Micky and I have been privileged to do. Jonathan is about to visit South Africa, Lara has been to Ranafast twice. Is that poor?

Poor can also refer to ability. We are all above average intelligence, the children instilled with understanding that this alone will not get you places. They work hard and that hard work yields great results. This is a privilege, because there are other kids who work as hard or harder but don’t get the same yield. We are rich, blessed, privileged for the genetic lottery that has instilled in us this brain power.

We are rich in love and happiness. I am humbly grateful for a wonderful relationship with each of the children, free so far of most of the stereotypical strife between parent and teen. Is that poor?

So we had this really wonderful, thoughtful discussion of what precisely poor is, what it means, and I ended it with: “Anyway, Nic, you may be poor, but at least you’re not an arsehole.”

I think we handled the whole thing well.