February 4, 2014



*Brian Helsby wonders which is worse: material poverty or a poverty of character *

Brian Helsby is concerned about growing materialism and inequality

Brian Helsby is concerned about growing materialism and inequality

I have yet to decide whether or not to be excited about the growing middle class in South Africa.


Obviously  I feel really positive that more and more South Africans are escaping the clutches of poverty. And one just has to see the mushrooming of new shopping malls to be aware that a growing number of people have access to goods and services that they previously could not afford.


But what about those left behind or who remain in abject poverty? A recent newspaper headline spoke of 6 million South Africans still living in extreme poverty.


From time to time I have the privilege of showing overseas visitors around South Africa. One of the things I like to do is to show them around Alexandra township and then make the 10-minute drive to Sandton Square for coffee. They are usually disturbed, as I continue to be, by the marked difference between the haves and the have nots.


So is it wrong to be rich? Is it wrong to be able to move up the food chain? I personally do not think so. But those of us who are defined more by the Sandton image than the Alex image have to be asking ourselves frequently how we see our wealth and what are we doing with it.


It seems that sadly we live in an age where people are defined by what they have rather than by their character. In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares the concept that when our lives are over people will remember us for our character rather than for our wealth. Is it not time to put the correct perspective back into our society?


Billy Graham is quoted as saying: “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”


And if we have wealth, what are we doing with it? Do we not have a moral obligation to share generously with those less fortunate than ourselves? Marcus Aurelius said:  “The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.”


To become rich, and then to be selfish with those riches, is to be poor in character. And is not this the greatest poverty of all?


Brian Helsby heads up Church and Youth Mobilisation for Heartlines media campaigns.

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