Sunhay is a rising Junior and is interning in Queens, New York at the Women in Need Center, which primarily serves as a shelter for Asian women in crises.
After our tea ceremony class at the shelter, the instructor engages in a conversation with one of our clients. The client is looking for work and is having a hard time finding a job she can do. I overhear her say, “Sometimes, I have to ask myself whether I’m earning money to live, or if I’m living to earn money.”
I haven’t figured it out—my relationship with money and how I see myself using it in the future. I feel hopelessly naïve in the face of its power. But I’ve had many encounters with money and the dissonance it can create between two people, much less between people in general.
My best friend of ten years lives in a four story mansion in Seoul, Korea. Growing up, I remember going to her place to sleep-over every weekend and marveling at how she had a driver and a nanny who cut expensive fruits for us to snack on.
It took a while before I mustered up the courage and pride to invited my friend to my home in some forgotten suburb of Seoul. And as we entered our neighborhood, the streets filled with little girls and boys playing with hula-hoops, old men and women lying out in the benches wearing pajamas, teenagers crowded around our corner store for some orange soda slushies, I could feel her tense up.
The blow was when we were in our room speaking quietly because my room had thin walls. My mother entered our room to give us fruit, and my friend’s surprised and awkward reception of this gesture cut deep into my psyche.
Granted, I’m still friends with her and love her to death. But in the abstract (more subconsciously), I resent rich people and excess wealth and money. I feel anguish over the unequal distribution of wealth in the United States.
And for those whose aim is to close this gap? I wonder if it’s possible to walk the talk, especially when pay inequity exists in the very non-profit organizations fighting for equality. What’s all this fuss and secrecy over people’s pay in these organizations? There is a sense of shame that I feel as an outsider.
I also remember going to a strategic financial planning workshop for non-profits in the place of my boss. I ended up speaking to a finance guy (probably a CFO for a nonprofit) who told me not to get involved in non-profit work—that he had ridden the technology wave, the finance wave, and the non-profit wave. There was nothing to earn anymore in the non-profit venture, at least monetarily. Humanitarian motives and intentions did not cut it.
I left the workshop thinking I’d much rather earn a lot of money to donate than get myself involved in the grittiness of non-profit work (having to worry about money half the time–although something tells me this is not something exclusive to non-profit work). That’s where I saw the need in the movement—a need for money to raise salaries so that people most affected by monetary issues can still participate in the activist work and still afford leisure.
But I think again and wonder about the whole “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” idea. I feel like we need a new way of thinking about money and a new format in which we can challenge the status quo. The non-profit business model isn’t working and sometimes does more to alienate the poor. Who is getting paid and who decides where the money goes and how are those being served being empowered within the structure of a non-profit organization?
I just need to think more about this. Money complicates things.