What is Poverty?

When Peter LeJacq, Maryknoll Missionary doctor to the poor and ill in Africa was asked: “What motivated you to give up a comfortable, middleclass lifestyle here in New York to live poor in Africa?” he answered: “I’m not poor. I may not have material things in my life, but I’ll never be poor. I have an education and I have self-esteem. The poor that I serve in Africa and in other places around the world have neither and they suffer.”Go to Video Interview In business circles it is said: “My bank account may be empty, but I’m not broke.” This is an important distinction between the amount of a current material commodity, and the unlimited resource of who we are.

Father Peter points out that poverty is not about a lack of material things, it is about a lack of accessibility to the internal resources that are possible. Without being educated with the idea that it is possible for an individual to learn, reason, see the larger perspective, communicate ideas and be inspired, there is hopelessness. These capacities, while available to all, need to be encouraged, uncovered, mentored and realized in every individual.

With all the fear generated around the loss of money and the loss of jobs in the current economic climate, it’s valuable to remember the resources that cannot be lost: intelligence, clarity, attentiveness, integrity. These qualities cannot be bought or sold and they cannot be downsized. Although we have noticed that they can be ignored, even by the most educated of us!

When recognized and valued, it’s these internal resources that allow us to become aware of good ideas, solutions and the recognition of opportunities. This is our real wealth, both individually and collectively. It is the application of these qualities by individuals in both small and large situations that will turn around this economic crisis. Without these, no matter how much money is poured into the problem, our economy will remain “poor” and “broken.”

When overwhelmed with fearfulness that often prevails when money and/or a job is seen as the main resource of life, we lose awareness of our internal resources and we become unavailable to good ideas, solutions and opportunities already present. We stop being attentive to the tasks at hand and dwell in the land of worried distraction.

All that can result from a fearful state is more fear. This is the poverty of consciousness. We become focused not on the issues, but on “poor me." “Something bad is happening to me!" “Who is going to help me?" “Who is to blame?"

When there is awareness of the unlimited resourcefulness of our being we focus on the issues: “What is happening? What is needed? What is the intelligent, loving, honest response?”

Often the most honest response when job, money, health, or other is lost, is to recognize that we don’t know what to do – So the intelligent response is to take internal action – be still, know that “not knowing” is the beginning of wisdom. Your internal resources will begin to show up when given room. This is wealth. What happens with this awareness is a broader, more enlightened perspective of the situation and with this come inspired ideas.