Reply to Prompt #1

Jun 8th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog

“Be joyful/though you have considered all the facts.”

I haven’t started my internship or my stay in Weybridge yet, so the hills and farmland of Middlebury still seem like a different planet from my DC suburban neighborhood where food from all over the world is consumed happily and easily.

Even so, I have been trying to read up on national poverty and hunger to give myself a macro view of the micro problems that likely await me at the Charter House this summer. Though such reading has been interesting and has kept my brain from atrophying over the past few weeks, the material has also saddened me. Many of the pieces take an academic view that debate the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s metrics used to calculate the poverty rate, or they explore the real standard of living for the poor to show that they aren’t struggling as much as most people think. The underlying question: Who is poor? Who needs help and who deserves help? If your income is above a certain level (about $23,000 per household), does the system cast you off as not poor enough?

In the forest of numbers too large for me to grasp (who can visualize 45 million Americans in poverty?), I realized that trying to get a handle on the “facts” was making me forget that I am about to be dealing with real individuals who are struggling with hunger and rural poverty. I can read up on all the academic analyses of systemic poverty in the library, but I doubt it will make me a more effective friend and meal preparer for Charter House inhabitants this summer. At what point do I ignore the big picture, Wendell Berry’s “facts,” and focus on my daily encounters with real people? Eventually I hope to meld the sterile national perspective with my up-close-and-personal experience, but do not think I am there yet.

2 Comments to “Reply to Prompt #1”

  1. Mandy Kwan says:

    Thank you for your thoughts Kyler.

    I feel that way too. How do you define poor? Can statistics about a larger place tell us the story about what is happening in a smaller place?

    I think when you start interning at the Charter House, it would be interesting to see how those facts and statistics relate to what you see. For example, maybe the demographics at the Charter House will be different than what you read. It is neat and a very unique opportunity to compare and what you see in Vermont compared to the U.S on a larger scale. It may sound cliche, but our lives are made up of stories, and once we develop our own perspectives and experience our own experiences, our lives become so much more richer.

  2. Alison Surdoval says:

    I really like how you’ve brought up the connection between what Wendell Berry is (perhaps) calling “fact” and “joy”. Maybe the joy can come from those daily interactions that (I think) make life exciting and interesting. It’s important to understand the facts, but in reality, you considering the fact that 45 million Americans live in poverty isn’t going to provide joy to you anyone involved. Rather, it seems that the consideration of facts in conjunction with the daily encounters (joy) has the potential to make a difference.

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