Breaking the Poverty Mindset

Does someone close to you have a poverty mindset? Do they suffer from a lack mentality? How would you know if they did, and how can you help them?

I had the good fortune to be present at a Woodard Group meeting in San Jose recently. The amazing Caleb Jenkins gave an inspiring presentation about SALT (Shared Accountability, Lending, and Teaching). Caleb discussed the great work being done to empower impoverished people through micro loans, savings programs, and education.

One of the important things Caleb emphasized was the chronic poverty mindset. He talked about the difference between a critical poverty situation, such as following a natural disaster, in contrast to chronic, long-term poverty. With a critical state of emergency, it makes sense to provide reactive aid, sending in food, money, and other resources to provide immediate relief. However, providing reactive relief does not help in a chronic situation. It can actually make matters much worse in the long run.

This got me thinking about the work that I have been doing over the years with small businesses. It used to be that a business owner would come to me seeking relief from what they saw as an immediate problem. We quickly learned that the problems ran more deeply than the day-to-day bookkeeping tasks.

We were dealing with a chronic poverty mindset.

When we provide reactive relief to a chronic situation, it keeps the power in our hands instead of empowering the people we are trying to help. The focus remains on our resources and what we can bring to the table, rather than their resources and strengths. In the end, it is dis-empowering. Instead of helping them help themselves, we have now created a situation where they cannot continue without us.

In order to truly help people in chronic poverty mindset situations, we need to shift our focus from being reactive to being proactive. Rather than providing relief, we need to provide tools for them to develop their strengths and resources. We need to encourage people to delegate responsibilities, rather than abdicating control. By taking a servant-leadership role, we empower them to lead and make educated decisions for themselves.

Unfortunately, chronic situations are much more common than critical ones.

We have become desensitized to the chronic issues around us. Instead we see the critical symptoms of chronic problems. A small business that needs a brief influx of cash in order to make payroll is the equivalent of the high-school girl who fainted in class because she hasn’t eaten today. Getting food in her now may get her back into class, but it is a poor bandage for the eating disorder that is not being addressed.

Many of these chronic issues are rooted in a poverty mindset. Relief is not going to bring long term success to the business that cannot get ahead, the impoverished community that does not have the resources to survive, or the teens struggling with self worth and finding where they fit. The core issue is that the poorest people think they cannot help themselves. They feel ashamed, inferior, and powerless, and getting a handout can often make them feel worse.

In order to truly help others, we need to empower them. We need to bring them hope and encouragement, we need to listen for their deeper needs, and we need to offer our compassion, understanding, and vulnerability first. By showing them that we all have our struggles and difficult emotions surrounding them, we can develop more potent connections and begin to close the gap that has them feeling so weak and alone.

Sometimes we need someone else to see the strength within us before we can see it in ourselves.

In business, we often feel under-qualified to assist our clients with deeper mindset issues. With time and practice I learned that we do not need to have a degree in psychology to show compassion to another human. Too often we hide our deeper selves behind a wall of professionalism, not wanting the relationship to get too personal. As a result, we miss the opportunity for real connection, learning, and growth on both sides. That is also rooted in a poverty mindset. We can choose another way today.

By empowering others, we help everyone around us, and they help us in turn. Just as Caleb Jenkins is working to bring hope and strength to people in impoverished areas, we can work to help each other and our local communities.

Together we can break out of our poverty mindsets and live in abundance.

Ingrid Edstrom Qualifications

Posted by Ingrid Edstrom