Empathy, not poverty, is a choice | Inquirer Opinion

Empathy, not poverty, is a choice

/ 05:02 AM April 15, 2020

“POVERTY is a choice” trended on Twitter a few nights ago, and posts were all over Facebook.

Some criticized those who are in great need of the government’s assistance. “Pinili nilang maging mahirap,” “Hindi kasi sila nagsisikap,” “Sinusuportahan lang natin ang katamaran”: These were some of the comments of those who believe that poverty is a choice. They gave stories of rags-to-riches—theirs or of prominent people—as proof.


What we fail to recognize is that we were not born with equal opportunities. Some of us were born to rich families, and a lot more to poorer families. But who doesn’t want to rise up the socioeconomic ladder and live in the comfort of privilege?

Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, argued that individuals possess three different assets necessary for social mobility: economic capital (available monetary resources/property), cultural capital (possessed knowledge, skills, and behavior), and social capital (accessible human networks). However, we have different starting points on these three assets, and their interplay determines our capacity to move up the social ladder.


If poverty were a choice, why do the people working in the informal sector who work for more than eight hours, even on weekends, remain poor? Won’t the long hours prove that they are not lazy, as people suggest? Is the low income they gain from continuous work due to their lack of effort? Are the market prices seemingly unaffordable because they only opt to ask for help from others, or from the government, rather than work hard? If poverty really was a choice, who would actually want to be poor?

Those who say that poverty is a choice, especially those who were once poor, are lucky to have had access to various opportunities that allowed them to move further up the social ladder. But it is not a choice, it is a product of the conditions formed and perpetuated by society. It is affected by the oppressive and hegemonic norms and policies held by those in power. It is the result of lack of opportunities in life.

Understanding, if not empathy, is a choice; poverty is not.

University of the Philippines Diliman
Quezon City
[email protected]

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TAGS: Empathy, Letter to the Editor, Mariam Jayne M. Agonos, Poverty
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