The world of the powerful and that of the powerless... are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both. — Vaclav Havel, Czech poet and president

The way a rich nation thinks about its poor will always be convoluted. The richer people become in general, the easier it theoretically becomes for them to share with people who are left out. But the richer people become, the less they naturally stay in touch with the realities of life on the bottom, and the more they naturally prefer to be excited about their own prospects rather than concerned about someone else's. — James Fallows, in a March 19, 2000 New York Times piece, "The Invisible Poor"

Nearly everyone, whatever his actual conduct may be, responds emotionally to the idea of human brotherhood. (Charles) Dickens voiced a code which was and on the whole still is believed in, even by people who violate it. It is difficult otherwise to explain why he could be both read by working people (a thing that has happened to no other novelist of his stature) and buried in Westminster Abbey. — George Orwell

The biggest divider of "haves" from "have nots" is money. Money helps secure our fundamental human needs such as food and clean water, basic healthcare, and a safe and comfortable place to live. A little more money can mean opportunities to better our quality of life.

As Unitarian Universalists, we do not turn away from noticing the gaps that separate "haves" from "have nots." To work against inequity, we know we first have to see it.

Unitarian Charles Dickens saw it. Born poor, he later earned a living as a writer and joined a more comfortable economic class. Dickens used colorful character portraits and complex, often humorous plots, to expose tragic inequities in 19th-century British society. He showed that people at opposite ends of an economic spectrum belong to the same "we," united by our common humanity and destiny—a lesson which resounds with our contemporary Unitarian Universalist Principles.

This session challenges participants: How can we look at our world as Dickens looked at his, take compassionate note of poverty, and see where humanity is needed?

Note: The first activity asks you to introduce the group to Dickens' portrayal of "have-not" children and their lives. While it may be best to prepare to describe and summarize Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and perhaps others, we suggest a number of book and video resources in Activity 1 and in the Find Out More section.

Goals

This session will:

  • Demonstrate the value of observing and documenting inequities as a step toward promoting economic justice
  • Guide children to observe a society in terms of its "haves" and "have-nots"
  • Introduce author Charles Dickens as a prophetic voice from our Unitarian Universalist heritage whose tales presaged the first and seventh Principles we affirm and promote today.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Learn about 19th-century Unitarian writer Charles Dickens
  • Learn the terms "haves" and "have-nots" and apply them to Dickens' society and our own
  • Explore how contemporary media portray extreme poverty and extreme wealth
  • Identify specific ways for awareness of inequities to guide our faithful actions
  • Reflect on their own lives, in terms of "abundance" or "scarcity," and express this reflection on their individual Window/Mirror Panels.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.