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July 6, 2022



Commentary: Stop idealizing poverty

16.2.2022 10:36
(PHOTO:  Marko Milivojevic,
(PHOTO: Marko Milivojevic,

In the media, especially the tabloids, the story of the girl from a Romani settlement in eastern Slovakia who miraculously won races running in ballerina flats thanks to her talent has been resurfacing recently - the tabloids reported on her pregnancy at age 17, then on her boyfriend leaving her, then on her miscarriage, and now they are reporting that she doesn't know what to do with herself and doesn't run much anymore. The headlines filling the Internet now are about this "promising runner who has ruined her career." 

So much of the hope that society invested into her has gone cold. So many people were moved by her, once, and this is how it's turned out. 

In my opinion, what has happened to this person after her first victory running in ballerina flats has a much more important message to send to society. You all have to stop idealizing poverty. 

You have to stop turning poverty into pathos. Stop looking for the captivating stories of the people who "work their way up from the bottom" into their careers. 

Those stories are not what poverty is like. It is disgusting.

There is nothing beautifully moving about poverty. What we should take away from this story is not: "Once upon a time there was a poor girl with talent, we all cheered for her, but then she screwed up." 

What we should take from it is this: "Damn it, how many talented people do we lose every day? How many of them never get the conditions to develop their talent and so end up where they end up?"

"Why is this happening, and how much does it cost all of society in the end?" is what we should be asking. Forget your ideas of pathos. 

The lives of socially excluded people play out in ways that are absolutely different from such storylines. And these human beings do not exist just so the rest of you can be instantly "moved".

Martin Freund is the head of a shelter with a nursing service in Prague, Czech Republic

Martin Freund, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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