Trinidad and Tobago is fast becoming a society of great inequality. Simply put, there are those who live with material abundance and those who have to fight to provide the basics for their families such as food and shelter.
As the economy struggles along, we will face the painful truth, from theological and humanitarian perspectives, of the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.
We cannot pretend the inequality gap isn’t there; we cannot forget that while some climb the economic ladder through greed, corruption and dishonesty, others are slowly slipping into the poverty trap. This socioeconomic fact ought to leave every Christian and all people of good-will uneasy.
In the height of the most recent boom, ‘Trinbagonians’ developed a taste for the exotic and expensive that led to a culture of waste and insatiable want. We reached for a standard of living that created the type of inequality we now find ourselves in. High-end goods and exotic tastes require high salaries and large disposable incomes.
Further to this, our economic structures and boardroom decisions fed our expensive tastes much to the detriment of the poor who did not have the Trade Union voice or the decision-making power to demand more income to live opulent and wasteful lifestyles. In the end, it was no-income or fixed-income people such as pensioners who suffered the most when businesses raised the cost of goods and services to capitalise on increases in income.
Every sector of the society tried to reach for the ‘quantity’ and ‘quality’ of goods and services. As we spent more and wasted more, we had less and less to give to others who were in dire need. We did not take the wise advice of Gustavo Gutierrez who once said, “Live simply that others may simply live”.
The Church is called to be a social conscience of our nation. Every Catholic ought to ask himself or herself if their spending patterns ought not to be influenced by the fact that some people just do not have! Waste, greed and opulence at all levels of society are enemies of true human communities in which everyone has a place around the table.
We must not accept a society in which thousands of dollars could be spent at parties in one night, while others struggle to feed their children. Unless we address the inequality issue as a moral issue, the gap between the rich and the poor will continue to grow.
We must look at our consumption patterns as part of the strategy of reducing the inequality gap. Part of the ‘lingo’ of a social economy must be an analysis of our ‘giving/sharing patterns’ and not only ‘consumption/spending patterns’. We must assist the poor and the lowest-income groups in escaping the indignity of material poverty and daily begging.
Our churches should be places where we ought to consider ways we can give towards sustainable development of families who are struggling to just live. We must see the parish as a place where the poor is welcomed and where the poor would be helped to get on their feet.
The parish must be a place where we pool our resources to help those who are struggling. In order to do this, we must be prepared to share more and give more to those who have less than ourselves.