There are 3 types of poverty. Chances are you have some.
We’ve all seen the commercials and ads for charities that serve the at-risk of this world. I used to write these. I never quite knew what it meant.
I still don’t.
There are at-risk youth and at-risk families. Apparently, there are even at-risk puppies. Sometimes we get a little bit more info: at-risk for homelessness, at-risk for not graduating high school, at risk for obesity. At risk for something horrible that needs fixing.
I’ve never read a nonprofit website that said, “Our youth are at risk for having too much fun. Even though they are financially poor, they still play a mean game of curbball and laugh at bad jokes and have crushes and want the latest lip gloss. Please help.” The connotation is always negative.
Aren’t we all at risk?
There’s an underlying theme to the way we treat those who are financially and materially poor: pity. Pity seems like a nice response, but really it is quite de-humanizing. If we pity something, we want to fix it. If we pity it, we may even want it to go away because it is too much to bear. It breaks our hearts.
We’re not good at having our hearts broken and still staying with it. Even after having spent time in Haiti and seeing the lack of clean water, it’s easier to go back to our old ways of drinking bottled water and taking 20 minute showers. We blame those who are poor for being poor and take no responsibility for effed-up systems. We can’t admit our vulnerability and our own risk.
We’re all poor in some way.
If we’re going to address the impacts of poverty in our world, we need to acknowledge that there’s more than one kind. And poverty of any kind is de-humanizing. In addition to financial and material poverty, there’s also communal poverty and spiritual poverty. There’s also immense wealth in each of these areas too. Let me break it down.
- Financial and material poverty: If you subscribe to the whole Maslow Hierarchy of Needs (and have a bit of common sense), you know that we need the most basic of things to survive: food with nutrients, water, shelter, literacy, clothes, heat in the winter (in Indiana at least!), etc. Hundreds of thousands of nonprofits exist to provide these necessities to individuals across the globe. When we experience complete poverty in this area, our physical lives are in danger.
- Communal poverty: People need people in order to survive. According to new research from Brigham Young University, loneliness and being alone increases our risk of early death by 30%. Other research documents how isolation is killer, too. This is why bullying is so horrific: it communicates to the child that he or she is too different to belong. Loneliness kills: first our spirits, then our bodies. You can be lonely in any income bracket and in any size room. If you spend your life making superficial connections, not being vulnerable with others, and, ultimately, not making connections with a community (or the family you were given or the one you choose), you will die earlier than if you had lived a rich life giving and receiving love.
- Spiritual poverty: In order to give and receive love, stay in relationships through their difficulties, and be able to develop relationships with those who are different from you, you need a certain amount of spiritual resilience and health. Some might call it personal development or self esteem. Spiritual poverty is marked by inconsistency, lack of direction and follow through, and inauthenticity. At its worse it can show up as addiction and cheating. The newest research confirms what so many have already experienced: addicts don’t just need to be released physically from their drug of choice they need love and support from a community and from themselves. They’ve tried to fill a hole in their soul with booze/cocaine/heroine/meth because they didn’t have a wealth of love (in the right way for them).
When someone has poverty in all three ways, they are in utter despair. They have none of the ingredients for life. We isolate poor people in the ghettos with no jobs, no transportation, crap education, and violent neighborhoods, and then set up a food pantry and housing subsidies and wonder why they aren’t thriving. Drugs abound because they’re filling a hole in their souls. Violence abounds because guns are a quick way to get power and significance in any situation.
We want to separate ourselves from the risky parts of the world.
When we have all three elements in abundance, we have true wealth and can share it with others. We hoard different aspects of life (like money) when we have poverty in another area.
Another blogger and speaker Terry Hershey recently said: The majority of us seem wedded to the notion of ‘fixing,’ and have an aversion to anything “broken” (especially our own brokenness). Which means that we make premature judgments, naming whatever is wounded or shattered or broken, as wrecked or ruined. . . .
Our unchecked human condition is to label what is broken in others and then try to fix them. What we really need is to spend more time in the psychological mirror understanding our own brokenness. It is only by letting go of our need to control and fix that we can connect with others.
It comes simply down to this: when you’re really honest with yourself, where do you have poverty in your life? When you’re really honest with yourself, where do you have wealth?
How can you allow others to help you build and share all the forms of wealth?