Understanding Our Poverty


Over the last 20 years, I have spent much time and energy in the arena with those who are in poverty financially and who are continually marginalized in our culture because of it. I have also spent a fair amount of time reading, discussing and thinking about poverty. My most treasured resource is a book called A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne. In the book, Ms. Payne defines poverty as “the extent to which an individual does without resources.”  She also lists eight categories in which we can experience poverty: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, and knowledge of hidden rules.

I have often wondered why it is so difficult for many of us to recognize and have compassion for those in financial poverty. After many hours of researching, conversing and reflecting on this, I believe we have trouble seeing financially poor people because we cannot see our own poverty.

Each time that I reflect on where I am in relationship to the eight categories of resources, my paradigm shifts to a greater understanding and awareness not only of myself but also of those around me. It is humbling to acknowledge my own levels of poverty versus abundance. When I do, I feel a sense of shame and inadequacy. But I also realize that I do not want others to look at me with pity and judgement.  Rather I want them to look at me and offer love, respect, dignity and support so that I can create abundance again.

Our own internal struggles with lack make it easy to ignore the pain and suffering of others. As we wallow in our own, we look at the surface of others because we are living on the surface of ourselves. It takes courage to go deeper, sometimes a tremendous amount of courage, because the fear is what if we are like them? What if they are like us? What if we recognize how poor we really are? What if they find out how poor we really are? Our stories, our fears, our anxieties, our hopes, our desires, our gifts have an opportunity to either cripple us or lift us up.

Imagine if we could expand our cultural definition of poverty to include all eight of these categories and give equal weight to each one. Perhaps that is where the beauty lies...in our similarities. I encourage each of us to tap into our courage and reflect on our resources. Then let’s go out to seek assistance and guidance where we live in poverty and offer that where we live in abundance. Let’s create that world we want to live in and let’s do it for the good of the whole.

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