Dare to Take Notice
The Two Dollar Challenge (TDC) was completely and totally worth participating in. It shows just how powerful five days can be when the restrictions of someone else’s life are imposed on one’s own situation. In this case it was taking the restrictions of a low income individual and applying them to my life here at the University of Mary Washington. I hold TDC in high regard for the experience it provides and the mission for which it raises funds. The challenge itself always seemed to have two sides to it. On one end I was proud, encouraged, and humbled by each test presented to me. On the other I was ashamed, deterred, and aggravated by what I did. The most interesting part about this oscillating, emotional roller coaster was that I left the challenge with a whole new set of ideas than the ones I came in with.
The issues of homelessness and global poverty have always been things for which I support the raising of awareness, as I’m sure the majority of people do. I would be lying, however, if I said I entered the challenge for solely that reason. I am not someone who takes up a cause simply because injustice exists. I am in no way implying that doing so on that factor alone is wrong. In fact I commend the people that do because it is incredibly selfless. I find it very difficult to become immersed in a movement unless I have had some experience in which I identified with that issue on a personal level.
La Ceiba was appealing to me (just as SHH was) when I first arrived at UMW because I have done work and travel in South America before. When I looked at TDC, however, there was a fog of disconnection that settled in over my mind. To me the La Ceiba and TDC were very different. I had never been close to anyone that was homeless. Subconsciously my mind referred to things like The Pursuit of Happiness and the shelters across town. I entered without an exclusively humanitarian purpose, but rather to personally challenge myself to overcome hunger.
The first day provided me with the opportunity to push myself to a limit I had not yet experienced: I decided not to eat for twenty four hours straight, from nine AM Monday to nine AM Tuesday. I had never had a situation or religious practice that involved the act of fasting and now I wanted to see what it was like. So, after an egg breakfast, I began to fast and with every hour that went by I became more and more confident. Hunger, it seemed, was only a sense of pain, the conquering of which instilled me with a great sense of pride. This was going to be less of a personal trial than I thought. I, of course, was wrong.
Nine AM arrived on the second day and I had still not eaten anything since the morning before. There were noticeable physical costs as I was weaker and a little light headed, but the mental reward of achieving the first goal which I had set myself, succeeded in outweighing the costs so that I walked into work with a smile on my face. To celebrate I had a rich, baked cookie do muffin one of my bosses had in a tin on her desk, which, as it turns out, is a really bad idea when you haven’t eaten in a long time.
In retrospect this attitude of mine was not entirely in the spirit of TDC and why it was organized. It is essential, though, to remember that I was still on a personal endeavor. It took two events that transpired over the following three days to really wake me up to the meaning of what we were doing. The first came in the form of an assigned reading for that very night.
After I met my friends at the shelter, we decided to return to Framar Hall for some ramen. On the walk back across campus we read aloud to one another from Ivan Illich’s speech To Hell with Good Intentions, passing it back and forth as we walked. It got to the point where I was so angry at what he was saying that I didn’t want to pass it around because I couldn’t rip my eyes from the page. Illich criticized not only the missionary work in Mexico, but in extension attacked any international community service work like what I had done in past travels. It also raised the question of whether or not those of us with privilege should or even has the right to try and influence the situations of those less fortunate. What really drove me insane, though, was that no matter how many times I reread the article, I couldn’t get over the fact that he actually had a very good point.
I slowly began to comprehend the idea behind TDC. This wasn’t simply a challenge to raise awareness. What we were participating in was a declaration that this issue was one worth a certain level of attention. This event stood for something bigger and our view on that something was represented and defended in our actions and in our words during those five days. Now, I felt a little humbled because I realized I didn’t fully understand what I was doing.
The second event was on Wednesday night when I found myself to be extremely hungry and made my way over to the dollar general. As I leaned against one of the pillars outside and ripped into a bag of mini tortillas, I observed an elderly woman, with what I assumed was a handicap in her legs, struggle to make her way across the parking lot. It occurred to me that there are so many people that I see everyday who are less fortunate than me, but it isn’t until I feel less fortunate myself that I dare to take notice, and that is the point of the TDC!
My hunger and her handicap are in no way a good comparison, but the connection is valid. This little realization of mine was reaffirmed on Thursday when I had two exams and a paper due by midday. For the majority of the day I was hungry, stressed, and miserable to the point where I thought my head was going to fall off. I became aware that what the TDC had done was reached through that fog of disconnectedness, which had presided over my understanding of the issue, and dragged me through it so I could see the other side. TDC allowed me to identify more with one of the most common challenges of poverty, hunger.
This is primarily why I hold this challenge in such high regard. To get someone to become invested in an issue that not directly related too them is not an easy task. People are generally resistant when pushed to recognize something they cannot identify with. TDC was able to take my narrow, personal challenge and broaden its base to include the greater purpose as a whole.
My conclusion in all of this is that the balance between pride in the accomplishment of a challenge and humility in face of a real life issue is the most important thing to take into account for the Two Dollar Challenge. I did end up achieving many of the goals I set out to fulfill during that week. I also cheated and failed to see some of those tasks to the end. It wasn’t until I experienced those pains and failures that I felt I could actually understand the humanitarian argument, and it wasn’t until then that I could turn that pride into inspiration.
Jeff Paddock (University of Mary Washington)