Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When Helping Hurts

Chapter 2 :: What's the Problem?

In this chapter the authors address the question, "What is poverty?"

Through the research they present from the World Bank, as well as my personal experience in Detroit and Cairo, it seems that people who are NOT poor tend to define poverty in terms of material possessions, while those who are poor define it more psychologically and socially.  Here are some definitions throughout the chapter:

Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable.  Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meaning.

It is this lack of freedom to be able to make meaningful choices--to have an ability to affect one's situation--that is the distinguishing feature of poverty.

Poor people tend to describe their terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.

The authors define poverty as a lack in one or more of the basic relationships of life: the relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.  Brokenness in these relationships lead to a Poverty of  Spiritual Intimacy, Poverty of Being, Poverty of Community, and Poverty of Stewardship, respectively.

I know that I struggle with a certain poverty of being, a wrong view of myself that says because I have something material, I somehow have more worth than those who do not.  The authors claim that most North Americans struggle with this same poverty of being they call a god-complex.

When we define poverty as a material lack and try to meet it that way, we exacerbate our own god-complex, and contribute to the poverty of being of the poor... feelings of worthlessness and shame.

One author writes, "It makes me feel good to use my training in economics to "save" poor people.  And in the process, I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something."

One of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich--their god-complexes--and the poverty of being of the economically poor--their feelings of inferiority and shame. The way we act toward the economically poor often communicates--albeit unintentionally--that we are superior and they are inferior.

I have other thoughts about this chapter, but they come in another post.

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