I wrote my last blog post shortly after reading Hillbilly Elegy* by J.D. Vance. The book is a very personal memoir which incorporates sociological insights into the roots of poverty among the Scots-Irish people of the Appalachian region, the hillbillies.
As J.D. Vance writes, the poverty of a large swath of black people in the USA is due to pretty much the same factors. I have observed the same attitudes at work in many people in Canada, of various ethnic origins. Poverty is due more to the furniture of one’s mind than to outward circumstances.
The book was doubly interesting because my wife is a Vance. Her people came directly from Scotland to Canada, therefore any relationship would be distant. Yet her family was much like the one described by J.D. My wife was the product of two dysfunctional families; she was raised by her aunt and uncle because they feared she would not survive in the ongoing trauma of her parental home. Her five siblings did survive that home, some successfully, some not so much. One of them is her brother, Jim Vance.
The book struck pretty close to home. And it reinforced a conclusion I had already come to: the only way that a person can escape poverty is to believe that he or she can do it. Without that, all the good advice, all the money, all the government support programs, will never do much good. When a person has such an attitude, they can overcome every obstacle that life places in their way.
Some people will not like this book because of the way the people in it talk. Conversations are liberally laced with four letter words. That’s OK. Be forewarned and don’t try to read the book. But don’t condemn the people described for the way they talk. I don’t know if the book could have been as effective if J.D. had tried to sanitize people’s speech.
I didn’t hear words like that in my parental home, or in my extended family. But I heard a lot of it at school, at work and in other places. I still hear it, and I don’t condemn people for the way they talk. I wish they wouldn’t, yet some of them are better people, more caring people, than others whose speech is perfectly sanitized.
Faith in Jesus Christ can provide the mental furnishings that enable a person to climb out of poverty. Unfortunately, the kind of Christianity that many poor people have been exposed to is of the pharisaical, holier-than-thou, variety. People living in poverty are more apt to catch a glimpse of hope when they meet genuine followers of Jesus Christ, people who are kind, humble, compassionate, patient and not afraid or ashamed to spend time with them.
*Hillbilly Elegy copyright 2016 by J.D. Vance, published by HarperCollins publishers