Living and Giving

The Wealth Available To Us All

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How do we define poverty?  How do we define wealth?  A discussion on Social Edge brings up these subjects, asking the question, \”What\’s Wrong With Being Poor?\”  Here are a couple of paragraphs from this thought-provoking article:

Traveling through rural India, you see huts and small towns, groups of women washing clothes in streams, men tending their goats. You wonder at their life—what is it like? Most of us can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to live on their small income. Sometimes, there is an urge to put your life frame up to theirs and compare. You wish you could make their houses bigger. Provide more food. Send their daughters to school. Make the labor less trying.  

 But, what if we are really just grafting our own notions about haves and have nots and quality of life based on our own limited experience? What if we want them to have things that they don’t need or they don’t want? What is really wrong with being poor?  In a conversation I had the other day with a first-time visitor to India, I was asked something to the effect of, “If a person has all that she needs, lives a life off the land, eats the fruits of her labor, rises with the sun—does that person need development initiatives and aid? Are the poor actually unhappy?

From my own international travels, I\’ve also encountered these questions.  And I\’ve found…that we have so much to learn.  Here was my response to this discussion:

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Once we do get beyond the notion of extreme poverty, in which people are not able to subsist, I think we do need to look at what wealth means. \”Money poverty\” can be horrific and exhaust a terrible toll on people\’s lives. However, there is also a wealth that is available to us all.

Wealth is a state of mind and life. We tend to associate poverty with money. But poverty can be mental, emotional or spiritual poverty. I am often struck by this in my travel and volunteering in developing nations. Often, the divorce rates are low. Families not only stay together, but also spend time together. They gather food from the fields together, cook together and share meals together.

Contrast us: 15 minute family dinners if we are lucky. Fast-food and food distanced from its natural base. We eat alone; we eat in our cars. Divorces are easier to get, and in our mind it can be easier to allow those thoughts in as a possibility, rather than work through critical issues. So we lose the connection to family. We lose the connection to the local farm. We can lose the connection to long-term commitment.

We lose our greatest asset in natural wealth: relationships. Relationships with ourselves, our families, the earth. This wealth creates happy, balanced, productive, lower stress lifestyles, because we are connected in the way we are meant to be.

Further, we often pass by our heritage and where we come from. In many emerging nations, and especially in the continent of Africa, we see tribes value their connection to their heritage as primary importance even above their nationality. There is a deep-rooted connection to rituals and history which keeps people grounded in who they are, and the deeper, long-term meaning of being a part of a larger community in their lives.

Poverty is about money, at times. It has to be addressed as people should have the opportunity to live productive lives and make choices about what they would like to devote their lives to. Poverty is also about our well-being. Often when we get beyond \”money poverty,\” we forget \”well-being poverty,\” and get trapped in a go-go-go consumer culture.

I hope we can celebrate the healthy wealth that is accessible to us all in positive, committed relationships with ourselves, one another, our families, our earth, our communities and our heritage. How wonderful this is available to us all.