When a person or a community or a country lives in poverty, it kills any hope for the future. They make decisions minute to minute, not expecting any real gain, just survival.
Long term poverty cycles restrict life choices to basic survival instincts. The people living in these cycles have fewer choices, less power and no ability to respond to their situation. They are simply reacting to what is happening around them.
Those reactions are usually short-sighted, and can be selfish, even destructive. To people looking in they might assume that poor people are stupid, that they are not capable of making smart decisions or empowering themselves to a better life.
Poverty and Decision Making
Studies are showing that this is not true. People in poverty are capable of making smart decisions if the circumstances allow it. When the circumstances are hopeless, then coping mechanisms engage. These are not ‘bad’ people, or ‘stupid’ people. They are desperate, isolated and struggling to survive.
One particular study conducted at Princeton got me thinking. The talk was about scarcity mentality. Professor Eldar Shafer of Princeton discovered through research:
“It turns out that people behave differently when they perceive a thing to be scarce. And what that thing is doesn’t much matter – whether it’s not enough time, money or food.”
See the Ted Talk Poverty isn’t a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash here or below for the details of money mindset.
It got me thinking maybe some people out there, people who live affluent and comfortable lives are choosing not to help people in poverty because they think there is no point, maybe even that these people deserve their fate. It’s very possible that they think that their input won’t make a difference.
I think this Ted Talk can help open people’s awareness to what is really going on. People who are caught in stressful environments with overwhelming fears of survival for themselves and their children are not stupid, they are caught in scarcity mindset and find whatever means to cope the best way they can.
For the people in Africa their poverty situation is extreme. They are not simply facing scarcity for time, or money, they are facing scarcity for clean water, food, crops, medicine, income, health, education, peace, freedom.
When we alleviate some of these stresses, by providing fresh drinking water, hygiene solutions, food and education, we give each individual and the community as a whole space to make better decisions that have long term gains.
Making Better Decisions
In the study described in the Ted Talk, the change in a person’s ability to function when the pressure was off occurred to the point where intelligence actually increases on an IQ test. Not to say those farmers became more intelligent when their income arrived, but that the stress that had clouded their thinking was lifted. When given the opportunity to clear some of the burdens aside, they could think with focus, clarity and make long term decisions and had better problem solving skills.
Research in Africa suggests the same thing.
There is evidence that suggests that when more girls are enrolled in primary school, a community’s overall income increases and so does life expectancy. It’s incredible to think that education is actually saving lives!
The truth is that women in Africa are not incompetent mothers, they simply lack knowledge and choices that enable them to live better lives.
When women in Africa are given the chance to go to school, they are more likely to get their children immunized, more likely to know how to nourish their children for good health and know how to protect themselves and their children from contracting AIDS. What these numbers shows is access to more information means lower child mortality rates and a sustainable growth rate.
The results from UNICEF studies indicate that educated women have fewer babies and the children they have are healthier. Their children are also more likely to go to school and be educated themselves, thus creating a positive cycle.
If we give up on the people of Africa, we cast them back into the hopeless circumstances from which there is no possible end. Every time we help, every time we sponsor a child, we are giving each person the power to change, for good. Now that is something I think is worth investing in.
– Jess Charlotte