In this lovely time I’ve been spending in the land of the poor (sometimes I think of it as a vacation because then I’m having fun) I have learned a few things. Sometimes, those things are universal.
Today is one of those days. WooHoo!
One of the most surprising is that everyone thinks they know what my priorities should be.
Sell your iPhones, cancel your Internet, get a job outside the house, move someplace with a lower unemployment rate, sell your computer. There is no end to advice I get for leaving the land of the poor and most of these are delivered with such a tone!
If you get SNAP you get the refrain, “Don’t buy junk food, don’t buy soda, don’t buy anything that’s not fresh but you better not buy organic because that’s too good for the likes of you.”
They assume you have SNAP money raining from the sky to buy liquor and smokes and junk food with enough left over to feed your family!
I wish as much as those people that my SNAP card could buy me champagne and lobster every night for dinner. But beyond everyone getting tired of having the same thing night after night for dinner – no matter what it is – you could probably afford to buy lobster once depending on your family size. (a single mom with one kid isn’t gettin much more than hundred a month, if that) and you can’t use it on liquor. Those signs in the windows of gas stations and liquor stores advertising SNAP/EBT mean the chips, the candy, but more importantly the $5 milk and the $4 white bread about to go bad in a minute or the one lone canned good on the shelf. If you take a good look in your local grocery store there is food. Most of it is from 1980 but it’s there and if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time they want you to know you can buy some Cheetos or a dusty old can of Spaghettios (no meatballs, of course)
Back to the Priority Police!
These people in your life come out of nowhere.
Most of the time these people, whoever they are in your life, sound like they’re trying to be helpful. It’s easier for a poor person because our priority police come with a “tone” that is usually reserved for how you would hear the super-rich in your head. “Dear *little rich people sniff* you must know *hmmmm noise* if you just worked more hours *self-righteous nod* you would make more money.”
As if they had come in during the last ten minutes of CSI and revealed the killer single-handed. They honestly think they have all your shiz figured out in the five seconds they took to assess your whole life.
The first secret is to always remember: I AM ALLOWED TO PICK MY PRIORITIES.
The second secret is just as important: YOU ARE ALLOWED TO PICK YOUR PRIORITIES TOO.
There is always someone who thinks they can take a five-minute mental stroll of your life and come up with the perfect solution.
For me, it’s, “You can both work. Then you won’t be poor.”
If I had a second car or was able to get a second job I could get to by train and that job paid more than daycare for my three children plus a clothing allowance and train fare and of course a new wardrobe because you can’t go to a job outside your house wearing Old Navy $6 t-shirts and old yoga pants from 2005 and then and only then would I get to the part where I tell you it is important to me to raise my children myself as many hours of the day as possible.
When you are poor all the suggestions sound the same, but I bet if you’re a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, a dad, a fisherman, or an underwater basket weaver there is someone trying to tell you how you should re-prioritize your life to magically solve all your problems.
Take a few moments and see if you can think of anyone who does this to you. That person who over-simplifies your life and tells you how easy things would be if you did just that one thing they came prepared to share.
In case you’re having trouble coming up with one I have one more way to determine if you are dealing with the Priority Police. When they give you their advice like fairy dust from above, it will always take ten times longer to explain why it won’t work than it did for them to give the advice. If you try to explain because you’re being polite or some other crazy thing, they will act like you are making excuses or looking for reasons not to do what they have decided will save you.
Finally, and this is the worst and most insidious kind of Priority Police…it might be the voices in your own head. The one that tells you that you should have gotten that diploma, finished that degree, majored in something different, had a different number of children, had different partners in life, made better friends, tried harder when you were young.
You can see all those missed opportunities that may or may not have existed at the time clear as crystal. No one can “easy solve” your problems like you can if you take a trip to the past.
But don’t start from your past. Start from today. You can’t fix 13-year-old you (trust me, I’ve tried) but you can show TODAY you all the love you have to give. It might not put more money in your pocket but money comes and money goes. You might as well deal with your bank account without hating yourself on top of it.
Because even if you aren’t poor…people hate you without knowing you. Whether it’s because of your skin color, zip code, religious beliefs, political beliefs, parenting technique, sexual orientation, or a million other little things. So it’s not like people telling me what to do with my life is going to magically stop someday. It won’t.
Because it’s human nature.
Who are YOUR priority police? How do you deal with them?