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Living in a World of Poverty

November 7, 2010

What do you think of when you hear the word “poverty”? If you were to close your eyes right now and picture poverty, what would you see? Do you see children in a third world country with their ribs showing through their skin, aching for a meal? Do you see a single mother living in public housing working the night shift just so her kids can sleep safe at night? Do you think of a lazy man who has chosen not to make the best for himself?

Who is that face of poverty in your mind?

Do an image search on Google and you’ll see this:

Hear it brought up in conversation and you’ll mostly likely also hear one of these words: Africa, third-world, UNICEF, inner city, famished, cardboard, section 8, lazy, war, or welfare.

Now I’m going to ask you to ERASE all of those previous images out of your mind. Most of the visions that first come to mind when we think of impoverished people are those without enough money, nourishment or material things. “Financial poverty” as we define it.

No doubt this IS poverty. And absolutely, financial poverty is terrible. It inhibits families and individuals from making their lives better or from moving up to the “wants” on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Financial poverty is an epidemic in dire need of an overhaul of the system. It’s not just in third world countries, it’s within each of the counties in which we live. Financial poverty is heartbreaking to me. I cannot empathize, and I don’t pretend to be able. But I do wholly sympathize with the financial impoverished. So, what follows in this post is not meant to belittle the impact or horrific nature of financial poverty in any way.

But, just for a moment, I need you to think of a different kind of poverty. Perhaps you’ve never thought of there being different kinds of poverty. There are many. On top of financial poverty, there is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual poverty just to name a few. In addition, there are two others that I especially want to mention in this post. Until recently I hadn’t even thought about the significance of them, but with each day, the lasting impact that they each have sinks deeper into my mind.

The first of these is relational poverty, a deficiency or insufficiency of relationships in one’s life. Have you ever stopped and really thought about the impact that your relationships have in your life? I don’t mean romantic relationships. I mean any type of relationship. Friends. Family. A significant other. Anyone that you have an emotional connection with, that cares about you. Most likely you have multiple relationships that have brought you through the hard times in your life.

Have you ever had to live without having anyone that you have a relationship with? To honestly have no one that you can call for help. No one to come help you fix your flat tire. No one to celebrate your new job hiring. No one to take you into their house when you find yourself homeless. No one to listen to your cry for help. No one. Whether it’s a good, bad or ugly moment in your life, it doesn’t matter. Chances are, if you’re like me, that you have at least one other person that you’ve been able to count on during each phase of your life. I deeply hope this is the case. Because being relationally impoverished is more than just an unfortunate circumstance. It’s an agent for a detrimental and agonizing life. We are creatures created to live in relationship with one another. In fellowship and harmony, and discord, too. But ultimately, we live in order to care for one another. When we don’t have the support of relationships, our lives tend to fall apart.

As Mother Teresa put it:

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

Relational poverty does not necessarily affect the financially impoverished. Although many people without the support of relationships can find themselves homeless or without the material resources they need because they have no one they can turn to when they are down on their luck. So, although they can be intertwined, they are not co-dependent. There are, no doubt, some people deeply burdened by financial poverty that are more relationally rich than I. Sometimes your wealth of relationships cannot save you from other types of poverty. BUT, they are a giant leap ahead. Being relationally rich can save sanity and lives. It can often prevent other forms of poverty.

There are people that you and I interact with on a regular basis that only have detrimental relationships, and are truly relationally impoverished. I would argue that these people need us as much as those with no money or food. Relational poverty seems to be within a phase of rapid growth in our world at the present time, especially in our Western society. With the breakdown of our families, the celebration of individualism, the ever increasing growth of digital and non-personal communication, it’s no wonder we find ourselves surrounded by 6.7 BILLION other people yet feeling all alone. We’ve set ourselves up for loneliness in a more populated world. This is why we must be proactive about our relationships. Our growth and development as individuals is hinged on the need for relational support. We need to receive the support, but we must also give that support to others in order that they might be successful. Because without others, we ourselves don’t succeed. We’re in this thing called life together.

The second poverty that I’d like to mention is imagination poverty, an inability to see past today, have goals or dream for tomorrow. Imagination poverty is often associated with a lack of education, but my opinion is that they are not inherently linked to one another. Dreams are are powerful tools. Take the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. had. His dream brought many people out of liberty poverty and into a new, transformative personal liberty.

I would argue that dreams are the very foundation for building a strong life outside of all types of poverty. They are what allows us to create better lives for ourselves. Often (but not always) people will need resources beyond dreams/goals to move out of poverty, but without those dreams as the foundation, individuals are basically accepting their current lifestage. They have no motivation to make things better. They see only day to day, and are working to continue that cycle at best.

“The poor man is not he who is without a cent, but he who is without a dream” -Harry Kemp

“The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.” -Adam Smith

Dreams come from the heart. They can be shared and are often contagious when like-minded people gather and realize the need for their dream. As with our relationships, we, too, must be intentional with our dreams. We cannot sit back and wait for our dreams to develop. We must constantly educate ourselves on how we can better our lives and better the lives of those around us. Without the development of our dreams, we become enslaved to current poverty.

This post is, at best, a small glimpse of the word poverty and all that it entails. Poverty is so much deeper than can be described in written words. Poverty is lived by billions of people every day if not by all of us in some way. Our world experiences it daily whether we realize it or not. If we don’t notice where we can help each other while helping ourselves, then we might as well lay down and accept our current situation. Ignorance of poverty does not make it disappear. Though some may not see it, it certainly is not invisible. It will continue to manifest its symptoms in disastrous ways.

But I’m not ready to give up just yet. There is so much that can be done. Luckily, we’re not called to do it alone, but together.

[Acknowledgement: Thanks to Doug Sanders and the Marginalia Symposium for opening my mind on this subject.]

[Causes of relational poverty]

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2010 12:32 am

    So I was on 20sb tonight & noticed the “20sb recommends” thing & your picture.

    So I squinted for a minute and tried to figure out why you looked so familiar. And then it hit me! MTSU & Ad2. And then I was happy because the world is small, especially online. 🙂

    Hope you’re doing well!

    • November 16, 2010 12:53 am

      Hey Whitney – great running into you in yet another place 🙂 It’s always good to connect no matter where it is! thanks for saying hey!



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