Poverty and Purpose

by Megan M. on March 25, 2009 (Blog) |

I feel insanely passionate about making people understand their options—their talents, their strengths, their innate holy-cow-ness—but I mostly think in terms of people who are living the same kind of life I am. People who have a place to live, family and friends, emotional support, access to (sometimes very) basic health information and services, transportation, and food. People who find themselves in scary situations, sure, but people who already have a very decent foundation on which to build a better life for themselves. I had thought some about people without those things before reading The Blue Sweater, but I don’t know if I thought about it enough. My passion for waking people up to their own potential hasn’t changed, but I have to wonder now what one has to do with the other.

What does confidence and purpose and passion and awareness mean if you can’t eat? Can’t keep yourself healthy? Can’t keep a roof over your head? I believe they can make the difference between a person who stays poor and a person who improves their own lot, but there are still missing pieces. If you don’t have a certain basic quality of life, can you even spare energy to consider these things? If I found myself without any resources, maybe I could—because I’ve already done it, I already know how and I’ve seen the results. But it’s hard enough to raise yourself up when you have most of your needs met. I’m having a hard time imagining the same process without family, food and shelter. When I say I’ve had a hard time buying groceries, I mean it—but I will probably always be able to eat somehow, even in the hardest of times. If I couldn’t eat, if I had to live out in the elements… I probably wouldn’t be preaching to you about confidence and purpose and passion and awareness.

I wouldn’t have the guts.

Would I?

Is there something to all of this, even for people who have much graver concerns than I do? Most of the people reading this blog do have their basic needs met, do have some resources to draw on, many of them (I might argue all of them, because I always do) are in an excellent position to mindset+action themselves into the place they want to be. Anyone with access to the internet has a huge array of options at their disposal. “I can’t” means less and less to you and I every single day. But what about everybody else?

I suppose this is one of the reasons the work of Acumen Fund appeals to me—they’re not about hand-outs or charity projects. They’re about giving people the tools to build themselves up. I resonate powerfully with that mission. It’s what I want, too. Teach a man to fish, folks. And maybe it’s just a difference in scale: Teach a man to fish. Teach him to connect with others. Teach him to use the internet. Let him teach others. Help him set up a fish consulting business. Make him the primary source on the web for fish information products. Then he has a fish empire. He’ll be fine.

Nope. I don’t know what it all means yet. But I’d love to hear what you think.


Viewing 5 Comments

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    This is all related to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Once you have fulfilled the needs in one rung, you move on to the other. Passion and self actualisation is at the very top; basic living needs is at the very bottom.

    Those who are still struggling with their basic needs may consider the other rungs to be important (feeling of belonging, protection, etc) but it's not going to be a huge priority until the basic needs are met. The rest of us have already jumped that rung and now have the option of jumping up.

    Finding your passion is a very privileged thing to be able to do. But perhaps that just means that those of us with privilege have an immense responsibility to assist and provide for those who do not - to bridge the privilege gap.
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    Two things -

    * Do you remember the part in Made to Stick where it discusses how people lacking basic needs often place quite a lot more importance than people expect on the higher needs when making decisions? I can't remember if you said you read this, and I can't EXACTLY remember the passage I'm talking about, but maybe I'll get lucky and you did and you will. If so, where do you think that fits in?

    * Responsibility to assist & provide: I was thinking about that too -- that maybe the "help the rich get richer" guilt I'm experiencing is just a reaction to finding myself in such far better circumstances than many others out there, and my goal might want to be "build up people who build up others" -- just like my positive impact business plans all along the line. Maybe I'm more aligned with myself than I think!
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    I vaguely remember the passage you mean, but I don't really remember where in the book it is. If I recall I'll tell you!

    Another useful link:
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    Acumen fund is my favourite - they are amongst the very few who have figured out poverty. They are one part of the solution. But poverty problem is also structural - and without other parts it is difficult to get out of it.

    Sorry for pimping some of my posts but I have put up few thoughts on poverty and how sometimes people are condemned to it structurally and otherwise.
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    I've seen enough evidence to believe that teaching a man to fish is highly effective, and giving handouts more than two or three times fails catastrophically. I say two or three times because certainly there must be an allowance for acute needs, for triage so to speak.

    Trouble is, there are some people who don't want to learn to fish. Those present the greatest challenge to society.

    Looking back at the positive side of things, have you ever seen someone "learn to fish"? It's a magnificent thing to watch. ;}


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