A Slovak proverb (sýty hladnému neverí), very hard to translate into English using just a few words while making it still sound like a proverb.

Literally, it means the satiated one does not believe the hungry one. In other words, he who has enough to eat does not believe the one who does not.

I have been reminded of this proverb when I read several of the write-ups on minimum wage. Several of those write-ups were obviously written from a strictly academic position by people who have never struggled with poverty. Rather than feeling compassion toward people who have less than they do, they talk about liberal and conservative values.

Knowing this proverb and its truthfulness helps me understand why so often people who are otherwise decent and intelligent can be so quick in dismissing the needs of those less fortunate: They simply have no comprehension of what it is like trying to get ahead of the game while experiencing constant rejection and frustration.

The proverb is not intent on condemning anyone, it is simply an observation of human nature. Nor is it strictly about economics.

Here is an example of how it applies to matters much more subtle than economic disadvantage (and to otherwise decent people):

Years ago, I was running a BBS in Pittsburgh, PA. One of my regulars was a teen-age lad (about 14 or 15). He often paged me and we spent a lot of time chatting.

I really enjoyed chatting with him. He was very intelligent, and quite clearly a very nice kid.

At that time, one of the TV networks aired a miniseries called Amerika (yes, with a k). It was a fictional story of Soviet invasion of the United States, which they separated into several smaller countries. The story was happening in one of those "new" countries called Heartland.

To me, the story lacked realism. The invaders may have seem quite nasty to the average American viewer. But to me who grew up in a Communist country, they were way too democratic and compassionate. Essentially, their characters followed the common myth that everyone who comes to America will inevitably fall in love with it. This may actually appear so in real life, but in real life most people who come (i.e., move) to America do so because they are already attracted to American values.

Well, one day, when the miniseries was about half over, my teen-age friend paged me.

"What do you think about Amerika?" he asked.

"It is not too realistic," I replied.

"I agree," said he. "It could not be that bad!"

Then I explained to him that what I meant was that it would be much worse.

Here we had a classical example of what this proverb is trying to convey. He was intelligent and caring. But he grew up in middle class America, with no personal experience of oppression. So to him it was unimaginable how bad real oppression can be and, indeed, is in many parts of the world.

That, in my humble opinion, has also to be the reason why so many upper and upper middle class Americans feel they are being ripped off whenever anyone in the government dares to care about those living in poverty. They often believe that the poor somehow enjoy their living conditions, that they'd rather live off welfare and social programs than work for a living. That may even be true in some cases, but for the most part many of the poor are quite willing to work their way up, but no matter how hard they try, nothing seems to work for them.

But, as the proverb says, he who has enough to eat does the hungry not believe.

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