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How do you define poverty?

Jay Parks

April 18, 2017

In my last blog post, I talked about a book I’ve been reading by Robert Lupton called Toxic Charity. In it, Lupton details the impact charitable giving has on people in vulnerable situations, and his findings might surprise you.

In 2011, a study was conducted on 60,000 people in financial poverty in developing countries. They were asked, “How do you define poverty?” Listed below are their answers—in order of most common to least common:

  • Poverty is an empty heart.
  • Not knowing your abilities and strengths.
  • Not being able to make progress.
  • Isolation.
  • No hope or belief in yourself. Knowing you can’t take care of your family.
  • Broken relationships.
  • Not knowing God.
  • Not having basic things to eat. Not having money.
  • Poverty is a consequence of not sharing.
  • Lack of good thoughts.

As you can see, money was mentioned only once and much further down the list of priorities than most Americans would expect. The study highlights that poverty is innately social and psychological.

In the US, our narrow definition of poverty is what’s on a W2 or a tax return. However, people who are truly in financial poverty aren’t only concerned with the money they’re making—they want to feel like they know their purpose, just like everybody else does.

In the past, my answer has always been to give money. I believed if I could give money to someone who is struggling, I could help them get out of poverty. But that’s not the case according to people who are in true poverty. People want to have a purpose. I want to serve others in such a way that they’re going to be truly successful.

Yes, sometimes in emergency situations people need just a little money. But most of the time people need us to breathe hope into them and give them a chance at building a future for themselves.

This message has inspired me and changed my way of thinking about giving. I hope it does the same for you!

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