Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Rich or poor, we all need love and connection

Children give you love and if you are poor and miserable maybe you want even more love. Photo / Thinkstock
Children give you love and if you are poor and miserable maybe you want even more love. Photo / Thinkstock

I've had a stupid week. I smoked cigarettes. I don't smoke. I read a book on torture. It didn't help. I lost my cellphone. I lost my credit card. I listened to Nick Cave and cried. I got drunk and did some crazy things that, sorry, I'm not going to tell you in a national newspaper.

And at the end of the week - sober now - I thought I would drive up to Hokianga for a rest. Yes, I knew there had been flooding, but like I said: stupid. One road was blocked. My cellphone ran out of battery - too much Pandora - so I couldn't check the other road closures.

I went to Noel Leeming in Whangarei and bought a cellphone charger for the car. But turns out the cigarette lighter in the car doesn't work. I'd never noticed before. Told you I don't smoke. So I couldn't use my cellphone to find out where the roads weren't blocked.

So then, being the intrepid investigative journalist I am, I wombled into the Whangarei police station and a nice polite policeman said it wasn't really the police's job to tell me about road closures; it was New Zealand Transport Agency's but they were closed.

The AA was also not answering its phone.

Side-rant: there must be a better way to inform people about road closures than having one poor skinny 12-year-old dude in a fluoro vest in the middle of the remotest part of State Highway 1. "Man, I need a feed," he told me, poor chap.

Anyway, I am telling you all about my stupidity not merely to vent, but because this week I realised I'm a person with all the privilege and support and resources and education that anyone could ask for.

I have a high-powered car, and a subscription to the New Yorker and a supportive ex-husband and postgrad education and expensive highlights from Stephen Marr (I must get a new picture).

And yet, and yet, and yet. You see before you, a mess. When I am stressed, I still do the most irrational and self-destructive and stupid things. Also, maybe, irresponsible.

And if I can do so much completely stupid stuff, and I am (relatively) rich, why should anyone expect that poor people should all be somehow miraculously more virtuous and rational?

Last week the Auckland City Mission released a report on poverty which sent bloggers into orbit. The report questioned 100 high users of the mission's services to find out what keeps people in poverty.

The answers were what you'd expect would make Cameron Slater apoplectic, jammy things like debt and expensive housing.

Blogger Cactus Kate said after reading the report that "if it weren't for my Pilates class" she would require medical attention.

Her view was that the main driver of poverty was that poor people choose to have too many children. This was irrational and irresponsible, she said.

I'm not going to make the gratuitous point that this leads to a revolting kind of thinking that only middle-class people are entitled to have children.

Because the really important thing to understand is that what we all most want is love. And children give you love. And if you are poor and miserable and feel basically a bit rubbish, maybe you want that feeling of love even more, because you don't have a brushed aluminium fridge or a Ferrari to console you instead.

Being poor is stressful. And when you are stressed you want comfort. And so although Cactus is right; having lots of children is certainly rather irrational-seeming to others if you can't support them.

But if you understand we're all just attachment junkies who desperately need love and connection, it makes perfect sense.

Also, rich or poor, we all do stupid, irrational things. It's just that when you are relatively rich, you can disguise it better. When you are rich, no one tells you off for doing crazy emotional s***, they just say you are eccentric.

Why is it that people who are struggling are supposed to be more virtuous than Cactus or me, when both of us, despite not having lots of children, will have done any number of other dumb things?

Anyway my ill-advised road trip up north ended with me driving for nine hours and going home again, cosily insulated by my privilege. No harm done. Told you: I'm stupid, but fortunate. But not everyone is as lucky as me.

- NZ Herald

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