Poverty is an Affirmation

Jan 03, 2011
*Special to asia!

Could someone become convicted that he or she is living in poverty when corporeal evidence suggests otherwise? This is the first of three blog posts that attempts to address a simple, yet profound question.

An old friend of mine who's an author and a lecturer, is working to put a paper together. He sent me three questions that stem from his attempt to confront the definition and issue of poverty. Here's my response to his third question: Why are people poor/why is there poverty?

Poverty or the state of being poor comes into being when an individual is convicted of this due either to internal or external affirmations - "I am poor", "You are poor". Which equates to, "I am powerless/hopeless", "You are powerless/hopeless". Many are born into poverty, and are told that they are poor and powerless. They can either accept and internalise that, or resist and challenge that. I have met girls like Sabina who have challenged that, but I've also met some who, despite being presented with the same opportunity as Sabina, chose to accept the opposite - that she is poor and will remain so. "There is no use for people like us to go to school. We will always be poor." We can point all the fingers we want - that the government is responsible, that the colonial masters are responsible, that irresponsible Western companies are responsible... go back far enough, and some germ gets blamed for splitting in two.


333 Affirmations can empower someone to be self-reliant, resist weaknesses, and gain control of a situation, or leave someone to be destroyed.


On the other end of the scale, I know a man who despite living in a above-average sized house in a large and prosperous city who believes he is poor, though his assets would not reflect the same. He can never have enough. When he has a family car, he wants a luxury car. He buys it on credit. He pays for expensive European holidays on credit. The list is endless. By appearances, this man is not living in poverty. But through living on credit, he thrives in a life he cannot afford. He has amassed a great deal of debt and cannot cope with paying them because he wants more still. I've heard him say "I am a poor man" but if he sold his house, he'd no longer be one. This man's situation has become so dire that he saves on meals to afford his holidays. He refuses to sell his house, because he feels that in doing so, his perception of "poverty" is manifested, as if a smaller house is evidence that he has indeed become poor. So he holds on to his credit line, and becomes poorer and poorer. We may know several people in similar situations, though in varying degrees. Where does his belief come from? Perhaps he was so indoctrinated by peers or parents when he was young; that symbols of success are attached to these material items and anything less is evidence of failure. He too probably perceives people in a "lesser situation" than himself to be "poor" and probably has a prejudice, which is why he would rather suffer this way then be associated with that demographic.

We have heard stories of many unique people who have risen from the poorest and most unlikely of situations, to become successful. Most of the time, we hear these stories and shrug them off. We say that "they were lucky", or "that's just one story, it won't happen to me." But some say, "if he or she can do it, why can't I?" Some of us are dis-empowered. Some of us are more empowered. Many of us are empowered, but fail to employ our powers. We indulge in selfish endeavours. We do not participate in the life of others because we feel dis-empowered to them. "I am just one person, what difference can I make?" Too many people believe that. But every once in awhile, someone steps up to the challenge, and lives a life that is engaged and of service.

Poverty is relative. In Western societies like Australia, the USA and New Zealand, people in poverty have a bed and a car. In Africa, they have no meals and no clothing. In Singapore, they have a one room apartment with no electricity. It exists because we are disconnected, and it will disappear when we become involved. But as populations increase, and resources become depleted, there is less or no incentive to become involved. Remaining disconnected is convenient and most of us are guilty of it. Paradoxically, as situations become increasingly dire, we will be forced to once again become involved.

The residents of Easter Island, were disconnected, and as a result, their civilization collapsed. Nations that have for so many years kept their borders closed to outsiders are opening up, connecting. Connecting creates opportunity, but can be dangerous if you do not have a firm clasp on your end of the tether.

We can wax lyrical about all of this. Some arguments will be better than others. So lets get out then, and start making some meaningful connections.

"Accomplish humble tasks as if they were great and noble." - Helen Keller


Read the first and second part of this three-part exploration.

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

Contact Debby