Rene Kane | Member of Communication and Education Team
Coalition to End Hunger
A new friend recently inquired about my holiday gift shopping. “Have you bought many presents yet? How does your family negotiate the protocol of gifts for adults? Do you follow the rules you set?”
As I read his note recounting all the joy he experiences from the holidays and gift exchanges, I considered how to best respond to his questions. I didn’t want to lie or sound ungrateful. I didn’t want to sound whiny or be perceived as having a victim mentality. And I certainly didn’t want to divulge that holidays are difficult for me.
So I simply didn’t respond and, instead, changed the subject.
This isn’t a story about religion or political arguments with crazy uncles around the holiday table. This is a story about “not enough.” You see, I don’t have enough resources to be as generous as my friend, to joyfully indulge and laugh about the crazy gifts we exchange or to pour my resources into others. My truth is that I can’t afford the luxury of giving without contemplating not paying a bill in order to do it.
With the exception of the past year, I have always worked. Through this recent period of unemployment, I am grateful to have had the support of family, friends and unemployment benefits while I’ve reevaluated what the next chapter is. This period of time has been a privilege that I couldn’t truly afford. But moreover, even as a working professional for most of my life, I’ve been poorly paid for my work, expertise and effort.
Fortunately, I have never gone hungry (at least, not yet). I have never been in the situation where one in eight of our neighbors find themselves. But I am one very small step away. One very fragile, bowed wooden *porch-step from hunger, or even homelessness. Most people do not have the kind of support from friends and relatives that I do, like those who can simply give them a car when theirs finally comes to the end of the road or send a monthly check to help offset expenses.
Pride, guilt and shame are major stumbling blocks in the world of stigma and vulnerability. As a member of the Coalition to End Hunger’s Communication and Education Team, I’ve been working to address reducing the stigma of “not enough” for the public. Yet, the stigma has stopped me from sharing my own current circumstances with my cohorts.
Believe me, the irony is not lost on me. It makes me nauseous to expose this publicly, and worse yet, to my new friend. I’m worried about condescending judgement, sad looks and losing respect. But what I’m most concerned about is being seen as less than a completely self-sufficient, intelligent, competent and contributing part of society, and within relationship.
Publicizing this scares the hell out of me. I really do not want to talk about it, to expose myself so vulnerably.
This problem of hunger and “not enough”* in our society, is not one of laziness. The source of poverty in America is political and systemic. Unfortunately, discussing the subject honestly is riddled with stigma and a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” lie. There are plenty of examples of people who work hard and drag themselves out of poverty. But the overwhelming numbers expose that fact that there are far more people who work hard yet never overcome the barriers of poverty. And those barriers create a troubling, mostly unending, cycle of having barely enough. And you know us.
The problem isn’t “how do we get through the holidays?” The question is “when will we act?”