How Do You View Poverty?
CARMEN is a mother of sixteen children. Her husband was an alcoholic. When he died, he left her with nine children still dependent and absolutely no income. What would you say were her chances of making her way in life and finding peace of mind?
As it turned out, Carmen was able to make a happy life for herself and her children in spite of being poor. How she did it, and what gave her the strength to do it, provide an encouraging example for those who have to endure poverty. But before discussing Carmen’s experience, let’s define our terms. What do you understand by the word “poverty”?
Can You Recognize It?
“Poverty” is defined as the “lack of money or material resources.” But it is not always easy to recognize. Elderly Simon Goldstein looked poor. He “was always dirty and lived like a beggar,” according to a newspaper report. Yet, when he died, the police found his junk-strewn apartment full of money. They gave up counting it when they reached 500,000 dollars!
Of course, this old man was not typical. But the truth is that many of the beggars who line the streets of the world have more money than those who give them alms. On the other hand, some who are genuinely poor hide their poverty because of pride or shame. Ancient King Solomon showed an understanding of human nature when he said: “There exists the one that is pretending to be rich and yet he has nothing at all; there is the one that is pretending to be of little means and yet he has many valuable things.”—Proverbs 13:7.
They Learn that They Are Poor
Then again, poverty can be learned. How? Well, consider a rural village where most people live on small farms. Their farms give them enough to eat, but not much more. Still, their needs are few, and they are content with what they have.
Then some of the villagers move to the big city. They earn money and buy things that were unobtainable back home. After some time they return, wearing fashionable clothes, spending money and talking about good times in the city.
Now the villagers feel that they are missing something. Their situation has not changed, but their attitude has. They have lost their contentment and now feel that they are poor. This kind of thing has happened in many countries of the world.
Richer than They Think
Finally, poverty may be relative, so much so that a poor man in one country would be considered rich in another. Yet he is poor in comparison with others in his own country.
For example, in the poorest county in the poorest state of the United States, eight out of ten families are poverty-stricken. Yet many of them have television sets, washing machines and even automobiles. Doubtless, many of these families feel unhappy when they compare themselves with their wealthier fellow countrymen. They might feel better, however, if they knew about Tony.
Tony is a father of seven children who lives in southeast Asia. He lives in a two-story house with eight rooms. Seven other families share the house with him—one family to each room. All of Tony’s possessions would fit into an automobile trunk. To make a living, Tony works 24-hour shifts as a taxi driver, snatching sleep when he can between fares. There is no welfare system where Tony lives. But his life is more comfortable than that of Mohan.
Who is Mohan? A six-year-old boy in southern Asia. His abdomen is swollen and he suffers from night blindness because of malnutrition. The water he drinks is polluted. He probably has never eaten his fill during his short life. He does not have a shred of clothing to cover his little body, and he has never seen a doctor, a toilet, a piece of soap or an electric light bulb.
How Does This Help?
This analysis of poverty highlights at least two valuable things that can help many poor people to live with their poverty. First is the matter of contentment. A person content with what he has is happier and more stable than one who is constantly striving for things that are at present unattainable.
Second, there is the encouragement to count our blessings. What blessings? If we compare ourselves with those who are worse off than we are, we will find that there are many things for which to be thankful.
And did you realize that many wealthy persons are worse off than many poor ones?
Which Would You Prefer?
What could be worse than poverty? Consider for a moment the parents of Anna. Her father is a wealthy businessman, and the family has a comfortable home in a beautiful area in Europe. However, when Anna was 15 years old she started taking drugs. Now, at 23, her mind is ruined. A dark cloud of sadness and uncertainty hangs over this wealthy family.
Their experience is not uncommon. Countless young people, many of them from wealthy families, are ruined by drugs and alcohol. Perhaps even more sad are the teenage suicides. Imagine the feelings of the parents of a popular 17-year-old boy, a good student, who one day was found hanging from a tree in the garden, a suicide. In the United States suicide is the second most widespread cause of death among adolescents, and many of these come from wealthy families. Think of the mental torment suffered by these young people that drives them to such an act—torment that their parents’ money can do nothing to relieve.
Add to this the horrifying picture that social researchers paint of violence in the family; add the tragically widespread incidence of incestuous abuse of girls and boys, which inflicts mental scars that are very hard to remove; and add the skyrocketing figures of divorce and abortions. You can see that there are many things causing suffering in today’s world besides poverty.
True, these problems exist in poor households too. But which would you rather be—a rich man with heartbreaking family problems or a poor man whose wife loves him and whose children respect and obey him? The Bible proverb says: “Better is a dish of vegetables where there is love than a manger-fed bull and hatred along with it.” (Proverbs 15:17) While being rich or poor is often beyond our control, there is much we can do—whether rich or poor—to build up happiness and love within our own families. A poor man who succeeds in doing this possesses a rare and valuable kind of wealth.
Nevertheless, poverty is a difficult problem. Is there any way in which a poor man can reduce the hardships of the situation that confronts him?
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A person content with what he has is happier than one who constantly strives for what is not now attainable
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If we compare ourselves with people who are worse off than we are, we will find that there is much to be thankful for