Let’s talk about my friend, Greg.
Greg has a full-time job. Aside from the full-time job, he has two other jobs he does on the side. He tries not to say no to extra work, especially while he’s still young and the opportunity is there. Now, he’s not rich, but he earns more than your regular salary man… it’s enough that his boss thinks he’s overpaid. He earns enough to be able to support his wife, go out now and then, travel when needed, buy stuff that would keep him distracted, and help out family should they ever ask. He doesn’t spend much on himself. He eats two meals a day, rarely buys clothes, and keep everything he has until they’re too old to function (like his ancient computer or his old phone).
Now what does he not have? He doesn’t own a house. He wishes he could. He wishes he could invest in one, but the real estate market in South Korea is ridiculously expensive and people are highly dependent on debt. And he’s not about to borrow money from the bank. So he wastes money on rent. He doesn’t own a vehicle. He doesn’t care much for cars nor does he need one. He doesn’t have kids and doesn’t travel outside the city. Why bother with cars, gas, and parking? In many ways, he hasn’t really carved out a typical adult life with debt, mortgages, property, etc.
And so what do he get from all of this? He gets told that he’s poor.
His wife tells him that he is poor.
The comment was just said in passing. It wasn’t meant to be critical nor hurtful. It was just an observation mentioned in the middle of a conversation about something else entirely. Perhaps she meant “poorer,” who knows? Still, it didn’t make it sting any less. Blah, blah, blah… you are poor…. Blah, blah, blah, blah. It stuck out like a sore thumb.
It’s not that he has a problem being poor. Heck, he’s an artist and didn’t really have a rich upbringing. But it’s the fact that he works too hard, earns too high, spends too much, and buys too much stuff that he doesn’t need to be called “poor.” It’s like all the things he’s done doesn’t matter. That despite waking up early, resigning to a life of being a cog in a joyless company, despite sacrificing doing things he would really rather be doing, it all doesn’t matter.
He is poor. He is poor because his life does not compare to the neighbors’. He is poor because his life doesn’t compare to the ones on television.
And really, that is the rub. More than the personal hurt, the skewed perspective bothers him more. His wife has never been hungry. He’s never said no to the things she wants. He has supported her through her studies and continue to support her even after. But that one comment tells him it all doesn’t seem to matter. It’s not that he’s fully content with his life right now. Sure, things could be better. He’s got ambitions too. Like the average human being, he wants the house with the backyard, the car, the mortgage, and everything. Someday, maybe. But there is no true poverty in his life at the moment. He’s seen true poverty. This is not it. If anything, it is selfish affluence and indulgence that have skewed what true poverty really is… the luxury of being offended by poverty. Greg’s wife thinks that he is poor. Greg is hurt at the idea of being called “poor.” You know what the poor are probably hurt about? Actually being poor.
In any case, he doesn’t deserve to be called poor, not after he’s tried everything in his power to give whatever his wife wanted.
It is one thing to be looked down upon by others. He kinda deals with that everyday, especially being a foreigner here in South Korea. He’s gotten used to it. But it’s another to be looked down upon by people you care about the most… even if it was just a comment in passing.
We all get carried away with things. I believe that that comment was just his wife getting carried away. Greg doesn’t need to work three jobs. He just needed one. He works too much that he barely has enough time to do what he truly wants to do: make art. But it’s all the stuff we don’t need, it’s doing the things we don’t really have to do, it’s comparing ourselves to others and competing in this endless Facebook wealth one-upmanship- it’s eventually what consumes his life and makes him and the rest of us miserable.