Murfreesboro Post

Susan Steen: Choosing love can give freedom to many people

Susan Steen

“The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” — Bell Hooks

Last week, I wrote about making changes and how we don’t see the need for change when we are feeling comfortable. But like the lady at church or the relative at lunch I mentioned, once people see why change would make a difference, it’s pretty difficult to ignore.

I feel that when I try to look at people with a loving heart, it is much easier to see the human side of their situation. Once I see the human side of a person, I not only find that I might love them, but also I discover how uncomfortable I might be operating the way I have been.

I guess that’s why Bell Hooks’ words really struck me. She wrote that when we choose love, we begin to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others, and that’s something I want to move toward. In fact, I always want to be moving toward something better, not staying stuck where I am. Maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling like I need to broach some topics that are a little tougher for us to talk about, as I look at people with love.

For years, I was comfortable with whatever was going on in my little corner of the world, but I didn’t know much about your corner of the world.

I knew about the lady who walked around my hometown with a shopping cart, but I didn’t know why she did that. But isn’t that how most of us are? We mind our own business, tend to our corner, and too often think the other corners should look just like ours. But have you ever stopped to question why they might not? I readily admit that I didn’t give it much thought for a long time. One of those corners has been the one a poor person occupies. If you don’t live in poverty, how are you supposed to understand it?

To be completely honest, I, for years, just thought some people are poor, some people are rich, and some people are kind of in-between. I’ve always been in the in-between camp. Because poverty wasn’t something we talked much about in my family, and it wasn’t something I remember learning much about in school (and it’s possible I didn’t pay enough attention), poverty was never something I really understood. I felt sad that so many people couldn’t afford this and that, but I wasn’t educated enough about things to know how to change those situations.

Apparently, I’m not a whole lot different from most of America in that respect — we still have a ridiculous amount of poverty and food insecurity in our country in 2023, so the rest of you haven’t figured out how to change those situations either. It’s a small bit of solace for me, I guess.

When I was around 21, I found myself in a difficult situation, pregnant and alone. I went to the local health department in the city where I was living, and they helped me get a few things to help myself. I had a visit with a doctor, I had a voucher to get some butter, cheese, and a few other things, and I was horrified at the situation. I was suddenly one of the people I had watched, and I realized that some of them might have been just like I was — alone, unsure of where to turn to climb out of the hole, and willing to get in line with many others.

I had heard people talk about WHY folks ended up at the health department and in those lines: they were lazy. I wasn’t lazy. And that was the day I knew the other people probably weren’t lazy either. If you look at the person in the grocery using an EBT card, and you think they are poor and lazy, I want you to stop. I look at people and wonder what situation led them to this time. I can tell you some actual reasons they might be on food stamps, accepting welfare, living in less than ideal circumstances.

Education. In many parts of our country, where you live in a town determines the education you receive. When you live in a home that doesn’t have breakfast or dinner for your stomach and brain, you go to school hungry and are expected to be ready to learn. How will you, the small child that you are, be able to comprehend all the teacher is saying, all the books are asking you to understand, if you are unable to focus because you are hungry for good food? See there, education is impacted by much more than what the teacher is teaching or the books in the library.

Income Inequality. According to Pew Research, the richest 1% made $2 million in 2019, while the bottom 20% made $24,000. The very top one-tenth of a percent of people made $43 million dollars that year — 1,807 times more than that bottom 20%.

Unemployment and Underemployment. It’s easy for those of us not worrying about employment to point fingers, but just because a job is out there doesn’t mean it’s a fit for someone. Will they be able to find someone to take care of their kids, will they have transportation to the job, for instance? Unemployment is sometimes their only option. And with 38% of today’s college graduates unable to get jobs to match their degrees, underemployment also often means poverty.

You can add lack of affordable and safe childcare, the high cost of living in many areas (and inability to afford to move to areas with a better cost of living), discrimination, and health issues to the list of items that impact a person’s ability to stay out of poverty. Poverty is not due to a flaw in a person but to flaws in our systems. A lot of people are willing to work hard, but that doesn’t guarantee they can get everything aligned to climb out of poverty.

Liberals tend to look to government programs to help people, while conservatives tend to look to the private sector. And when no one is listening, solutions are never found.

We are in 2023 still arguing about all the aspects of poverty, pointing fingers at everyone on every side, and still unwilling to look at each other with love. If we were, after all, there’s a good chance we would have made greater steps toward freedom, for ourselves and others.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at

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