Poverty consciousness

If you want to end poverty, you need to transcend the consciousness that creates poverty, the one that says: there is not enough for everyone or the one that says “I must have more than my fair share” as well as the one that says “I must have less than my fair share.”

Poverty consciousness plays on both sides of those who have enough and those who do not.

 A guy named Abraham Maslow created what he called the “Hierarchy of Needs.” At the bottom are biological needs like oxygen, food, and water. These are essential needs that must be fulfilled because without them, all of the other needs are irrelevant.

The next level consists of safety needs such as shelter and security. I think this is where a lot of people get stuck and begin the poverty consciousness. One might realize that wealth (money) can buy safety to a large extent. Others discover how they can survive in their limited world and choose to remain there because that is what they know and moving outside of that world threatens their safety needs. The push back from those who need wealth to feel safe probably starts here – they begin developing a consciousness that says “if I share my wealth with the others, I will have less and, thus, I will be less safe.” When someone with poverty consciousness tries to move outside of their world, they encounter this push back which feels threatening and often times is threatening. They retreat back to where they feel they belong.

The need for belonging, along with love and affection, is Maslow’s next level. Humans have the need to be with other people. While many people enjoy being alone, very few would want to feel lonely. We require connection. We want to love others and be loved. Once we have this love and feelings of belonging in our lives, we want to protect it. We want to keep it. These feelings can further isolate us within our poverty consciousness. As we begin to acquire wealth or remain in poverty, we draw to us and are drawn to those of the same status. When that boundary is threatened, we hug our status even tighter.

The need for esteem emerges from our need to be loved and accepted. We enjoy being respected by others. We require a sense of our own value and often base that value upon how others treat us. If we are where we and others feel that we belong, and there is the reinforcement of love and acceptance, we tend to stay there. Again, leaving that space, pushing that boundary aside, threatens everything we have come to know and rely upon.

Once all of these needs are met, Maslow says we are able to realize our need for self-actualization. Maslow describes it as discovering what a person was born to be, what he or she was born to do in the world. Sometimes, people make the mistake of believing that one must be wealthy or at least have enough money to relax to be able to undertake the journey of self-actualization. But even people who are in poverty who have had these needs met can take this journey. There are many who have.

People miss their chance for self-actualization because we, as a group, have not helped them meet their basic needs. We cannot impose fairness and equality on people. Fairness and equality have to come from within and we must come to agreement with each other as to exactly what defines fairness and equality. But I wonder what would happen to the world if we did level the playing field and worked to provide each person in the world with food, shelter, love, acceptance, and belonging.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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8 Responses to “Poverty consciousness”

  1. sandiwhite Says:

    This is a very thorny subject for many people and full of issues that that would take months and years to to resolve. I, however, only have one minute, then the AM rush for work-readiness begins. I would like to get back to this later when I have had more time to digest it properly.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      you can respond anytime for however long is needed, Sandi. You know how I like to stir things up a bit and get people to struggle with the way my words just sort of zapped some concrete impression they used to have of the way things “are.”

  2. holessence Says:

    If the question you posed:

    “I wonder what would happen to the world if we did level the playing field and worked to provide each person in the world with food, shelter, love, acceptance, and belonging?”

    was turned into a global mandate:

    “We will provide eac person in the world with food, shelter, love, acceptance, and belonging.”

    the change would be astounding! We would all be working together for the Highest and Best Good and the outcome would be positive, uplifting, constructive and healing.

    Thank you once again, Barbara, for another thought-provoking post.

    Laurie Buchanan

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — a global mandate would be great. The tough part would be to get people to agree on the adequacey of the shelter, food, love, etc. There are people who love mansions and others would be grateful for a room with a roof that does not leak. But it does not matter to me where we start so long as we do.

  3. holessence Says:

    “… so long as we do.”

    Yes, Barbara, I totally agree — positive, forward action steps.

  4. Snoopykg1 Says:

    Interesting thoughts. I ahve read about Maslow many times, however your explanations are straight to the point.

    I think this is part of what troubles me in finding a mission, as I was passed on during life with some needs and showered with needs that we probably too much and more than I needed. example: There would be more gifts than I could handle to sometimes day I love you rather than the emotional side being met. Wow, I can’t believe I just saifd that!

    I sometimes wonder why the world places so much time and effort on money and status. I look at the dollar in the U.S and think who is it that puts the price on this dollar us or God, and it it really worth anything, after all it is just paper and also even if it is tied to gold, is it now just a mineral formed by God and man made it way more important than it really is. In my opinion, baring economic calamity of men fighting over it, what would matter if the government printed up extra money for everyone and gave it out to even the field, which quite honestly in a lot of instances they are already trying…..I just have this attitude that man is putting the importance of money too far and leaving his fellow man far behind in a lot of instances.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kim – I know this quandry we have about money. It doesn’t really exist. It is just a symbol for the value of the energy we spend doing something of value for someone else. What is really wacky is that our value system is based upon ego many times and what makes us feel good, as opposed to what is good for us. Take water, for example. It is really very cheap. But just be without it for a day and see how valuable it becomes. I value the guys who come by once a week and haul away my garbage more than I value my cable (or FIOS or satellite) television, but I pay more for the TV service.

  5. gillianagain Says:

    Barbara I love the way you have explained the hierarchy of needs. I am grateful that all my basic needs are taken care of. In my life I have found that if you align your “wants” and needs, less becomes more.

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