My Turn: There is abundance, but not all can choose it

For the Monitor
Published: 7/21/2019 7:45:12 AM

I’m writing in response to Robert Azzi’s heartfelt piece (Monitor Opinion, July 16) about choosing abundance over a mentality of scarcity and fear of Others. I am grateful to him for sharing the chapter from the Quran. Most of us, including me, know so few of the teachings of Islam that so many vilify. And his point about the world being filled with abundance, not a zero-sum game, is true but, perhaps, not for all.

I haven’t spent much time recently in the Lakes Region, but the last few times I’ve been in Laconia shocked me. This is a very hurt city, and there are others like it in our state and our country. I don’t know the demographics of the area, but the Lakes Region strikes me as still pretty homogeneously white – Protestant and Catholic. This population in this community hasn’t had much opportunity to experience Others. Nor is this kind of a community able to benefit much from post-secondary school education, which we know allows people to broaden their experience of the Other.

So, while I’m saddened by the remarks Azzi quotes from the minutes of the N.H. Lakes Region Human Relations Committee’s response to Waking Up White by Debby Irving, I’m not surprised. But I should add I haven’t read the book.

Yes, the world is filled with abundance, though human beings are seriously challenging it, and there are many people for whom the zero-sum game is very real. Places like the Lakes Region are depressed economically. There are no jobs. People have little incentive, and they naturally cling to what is theirs. Their lives and the lives and futures of their children are threatened. They are afraid. Fear is the foundation of anger and aggression.

In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks of “the extravagant boys” of his childhood neighborhood with “their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats and full-length fur-collared leathers, which was their armor against their world.” The intimidating persona of the young black male was his defense against his fear. There are many white people today who are also afraid, and anger and racism are their responses.

I am not a white supremacist, and I loathe their agenda. I’m not suggesting that the responders to Waking Up White are white supremacists, but if they feel trapped, that their lives are being increasingly squeezed by circumstances over which they have no control, I’m not surprised that they may be susceptible to racist and even hate-mongering pundits and leaders. For too many in our country this is a land of dire poverty, of children held in cages, of terror used as an instrument of domestic policy. I understand what Azzi means when he says our country and our people are not that. We are indeed a land of abundance, but we are not sharing it. This is the bottom line.

Our society has long made the economy its measuring stick. Business and industry run the country. Profit takes priority. Efficiency is the tool for maximizing that profit. We have allowed – and encouraged – automation and outsourcing, the dizzying movement of capital in the name of globalization.

I’m not an isolationist. Globalization is the logical and necessary step in world development. But it has consequences, and we who are fortunate enough to benefit from its abundance have a responsibility to make that abundance available to all. If we don’t, we create a zero-sum situation. We hoard the abundance and flaunt our affluence for the less fortunate to see. Is it any wonder that they want a share? Or that they resent aid given to those perceived to be in greater need?

I come from a privileged background: good secondary and post-secondary and post-post-secondary education. I have been able to travel and partake in cultural activities of my choice. I don’t have any idea what it’s like to grow up in a depressed, disadvantaged community or area. My jobs have never been downsized or shipped overseas. I have always been able to get work with benefits. I do know what it’s like to have one’s financial security whittled away by forces beyond my control, but I’m lucky and I know it. So the suggestion that all we have to do is wake up and choose abundance disturbs me.

It may appear that people are making wrong choices – not trying sufficiently hard to pursue their education or retrain if they lose a job, falling into bad habits of addiction, but if you feel you have no opportunities, if you are living with the daily pain of despair, why wouldn’t you look for comfort where you could find it? It may literally be hard to wake up every day, and if abundance is denied you, how do you choose it?

(Katharine Gregg is a poet and essayist living in Mason. She can be reached by email at


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