Posh or Poor? Reactions please!


I’m writing this in the humble little’ Cafe Roma’, opposite the grand main entrance to The Royal Marsden Hospital in South Kensington, London. (I’m looking after my sister who is recovering across the road from a nasty cancer operation.) ‘South Ken’ one of the poshest areas of London. Two weeks ago I was riding my motorbike in the Balkans, one of the poorest areas of Europe. It’s been a bit of a culture shock.

In Bosnia my three course dinner, coffee, two carafes of wine, ensuite double room, secure parking and breakfast cost £20. Here a carafe of wine will cost that – forget the dinner, the bed and the breakfast. Secure parking? You wish.

In the Balkans I needed a new tyre for my well-worn motorbike. “Follow me!” the man said, and generously led me 30 miles to a different country – literally! – to get me to the right supplier, and gave me an engraved lighter as a goodbye present. That won’t happen here in ‘South Ken’. (Old motorbike? This is stunning sports car and black limo country. Blacked out, exclusive, custom-built £200,000 limos, Range Rovers and Ferraris abound. The main Lamborghini dealership is just up the road.)

In Albania ‘poor’ is normal, yet people don’t think of themselves as poor. Just normal. I did see one reference to the poor in South Kensington: “Don’t give them money” the poster warned, “they will use it to kill themselves with drugs and alcohol.” So giving becomes murder. Hmmm.

Clothes? Every possible fashion house is here, from Stella McCartney and Prada to Versace and YSL, with a pair of jeans costing … 550. Pounds, that is. (850€). In Montenegro it is likely to be 550 too. £5.50. 100 times less.

My new friend in Serbia earns in a day about the same as the basic wage in the UK for an hour, yet he STILL gave me a gift to take back to Britain worth a day’s wages for him.

I saw a three bedroom apartment advertised for rental today. £2,800 (4,000€) a week. A WEEK! A year’s wages just 1500 kilometres south of here.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “The more you have, the less you can give.”  (Jesus Christ pointed out a little lady who gave a tiny coin. “It is all she has,” he said. When it comes to generosity, it’s what you have left after you’ve given that seems to be the measure.)

How comfortable in your skin are you? What does rich mean? Are you rich?

Poverty Knocks

There is an age-old question: What do you do when people come to you for help, in tough circumstances, you have what they need but they are unable to pay for it? Nothing comes free, so do you pay for it ‘out of your children’s inheritance’ as they would say on Dragon’s Den, or do you keep your focus on creating wealth for the longer term and walk past the metaphorical beggar in the street? Time on the phone with a needy person is literally time away from your family. That is also an aspect of the ‘children’s inheritance’.

What is poverty?
What is poverty?

My answer is, do what you like, but first understand that both courses of action (and every variation in between) produce consequences for you, for them, for us all. No man is an island, but a part of the main, to quote John Donne.  so here are some thoughts:

I spent many years of my life working for a charity, and I have never worked with such demanding people. Apart from anything else, it is amazing how the compassion industry, and each emotionally demanding individual, has mastered the techniques needed to extract cash, time, energy, and love for nothing in return – except, arguably, a freedom from induced guilt. Do I want to encourage this ‘something for nothing’ culture, paid for by people who work very hard to get what they have? I’ve personally been on both ends of this spectrum, by the way.  (I know what it is to be on Benefits whilst trying to put bread on the table for my three teenage children to eat. I know what it feels like to not be able to pay the bills.  I’ll readily admit I don’t know what it is like to live without food clothes or water whilst being shot at in Somalia.)

Poverty in Mumbay
Poverty in Mumbai

It is a real delight to have lots of compassionate and caring people in Powerchange, our company. They are people who have heart, and many of them know first hand what it is to have very little.  They chose to invest in coming to our GOLD Training or get personal development coaching so they can think differently – and get more rewarding results for themselves. (In the case of one recently retired lady, she decided to invest the last pounds of a small and dwindling cache of retirement capital into this course of action. We made it especially worth it for her.) At what point do they say ‘no’ to paying for others (with the cash, time and energy they have personally invested in their training and development) to be coached by them?

There is a parable in the Bible called “The Wise and Foolish Virgins” who turned up at an event wanting to get in, but who didn’t bring with them the equivalent of the car parking money, and tried to borrow it off those who had it. They said ‘no’.  By the time they returned with the money (it was actually oil for their lamps) the event doors were closed.  They were called ‘foolish’ and there was little sympathy for them. The guy telling the story also said “You’ll always have the poor with you”.

A tailor working just down the road
A tailor working just down the road

So here is some advice for you to take or leave. Take a long, hard look at what your policy is on giving away your life time, and make sure you are absolutely happy about what you are about to do. Then do it with a full and willing heart, knowing that it is a clear positive choice for you.

It was an emergency worker who reminded me one day that the most important people at an accident are not the victims but the emergency crews.  If they forget that and put themselves at risk, there is no one else left to help.  That is why a life-saver will keep away from a drowning person until they stop struggling and are ready to do what they are told. (There is also the old adage about giving a person fish or teaching a person to fish, too of course. What happens when you’ve taught them perfectly well how to fish, but they don’t want to do it?)

My choice is to be generous within the concept of win/win/win – and to provide a little to start with, seeing what that person does with it. I ask “Are there clearly definable multiple ‘wins’ coming from this for everyone involved?”  If it makes a clear difference to their situation and is not ignored or wasted, I may give some more.  If it is not responded to in action (words in this context are cheap) then I stop. ‘My children’s inheritance’ needs to be invested with an evident return on that investment.  Unless there are all round multiple benefits, I’m not very likely to donate it, or donate much, however clever or pleading the person, or however ‘noble’ the cause.

I’ll leave that opportunity to my children.

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