RANT: ON TELLING YOURSELF SHITTY STORIES ABOUT HOW HARD THINGS ARE, AND DEFENDING BEING "POOR".
So, yesterday I sent out an email titled "Are you stuck in a poor person's mindset?" including a quote from Steve Siebold's EXCELLENT book called How Rich People Think. The email was meant as an inspiring call-to-action for my audience (who are self-nominated ambitious entrepreneurs wanting to create a passion-driven freedom lifestyle business) to consider their own thought patterns and whether they are helping them move toward their big goals.
It was really interesting to receive a reply from a woman who felt that she needed to say that my email was "very disappointing" and indeed practically "offensive" to those who are "legitimately poor and underprivileged" and that we shouldn't "deny the existence of poverty", and there are so many "institutional barriers" for these people. She even went so far as to paste a link to an article on "Why Bootstrapping is Difficult" (apparently -- well, no one said it was easy?!), and how apparently we need to constantly acknowledge that there really are those who are truly poor, even in our first-world nations.
I get it, on a theoretical level, yes there are those who have really rough lives. Of course people all have different life experiences and they are all valid, it just depends what identities and persisting personal stories we choose to draw from them -- and in that we have a choice.
And to some extent I get it personally too. I come from a family of immigrants who arrived in North America with nothing, just a gaggle of hungry young war-traumatized kids. I'm not special or privileged, at least no more than most others in our (quite "lucky" as far as things go) first-world situation. I've been largely on my own since 17, I made the investment for an education myself and am still paying off student loans. I worked 3 minimum-wage jobs at once to get by as a new graduate from university (which meant that I often worked 9am-5pm, then 8pm-5am, then 9am-5pm again, then 6pm-12am...etc. Read: exhaustion, for very little gain)
When I moved to the UK with very little, I did the same, temping for multiple different agencies in fully menial jobs, despite the fact that I had a university education, and patching together a living, sleeping on a broken futon on the floor at Will's brother's place for free, for a number of months.
But it was an adventure! It was hard at times, yup! But I made what I wanted of my life and I'm glad I did it. And obviously things could have been a lot worse!! I'm not trying to make myself seem like "the most hard-done-by person"!!...but...
BUT!!!!!!!! --- We all have our "hard times" that we've gone through (again, very subjective), it's not a badge of honor, and we don't need to carry these stories around letting the wounds continue to fester. Nor do we need to have a "battle record" or a "rags-to-riches" struggle story to justify where we're at now. It's not a competition. It doesn't make you more worthy of success if you came from rock-bottom.
(Although many of us feel like it does, and unfortunately we've been trained to think that way by a scarcity and guilt-based society... however there is no TRUTH in these concepts)
We also don't need to grovel or apologize or make amends if we do come from a "privileged" background (again whatever you consider that to mean). It's not a crime and we don't need to be repentant about it for the rest of our lives.
What if we just get over caring about what we are perceived as, and about labeling ourselves or others, and get on with living our lives as creatively, flexibly, productively and lovingly as possible?
Stating that you want to behave or live differently from some other segment of society shouldn't be perceived as automatically offensive. It doesn't mean you think worse of someone, you're just acknowledging that you don't want your life experience to be the same as theirs. There is nothing wrong in that. You can still be kind and compassionate and loving, yet want different things in life than another person. Either because they aren't ready yet, and that's ok, or because you simply don't have the same priorities and values and you'll never be headed in the same direction (and obv that's ok too).
And for people who feel they are "defenders of the poor", saying that people must have "awareness and understanding" of those who are (supposedly) so mired and swamped in the misfortune of the conditions they haven't asked for and that it's somehow evil or insensitive or uncouth to suggest that in fact ANYONE has the power to change their life conditions.... I REALLY don't see how insisting that there are certain people who are 'so stuck' where they are, and labelling them as the "truly unfortunate and downtrodden ones" for whom things are "so difficult"... could EVER be of service to them???? I mean really, why is it a noble act to DEFEND the conditions of these people, and to continue to label them as such? I think it's downright RUDE and inconsiderate and can't ever help anyone. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be kind and compassionate, again. But playing down to how "really truly badly off" someone has it can't POSSIBLY help them, and in fact I think is incredibly anthropocentric and arrogant. To label people as something 'separate' which then casts them into a pool which should be 'pitied' by the fortunate 'others'.
(if our goal was to help others, and if a group of people were ready to be and wanted to be helped -- those who receive assistance from others must STRETCH OUT THEIR HAND AS WELL after all, we can't force our "kindness" or "charity" on people -- because then wouldn't we be like missionaries or something? And I definitely don't believe in that, demeaning traditional religions and ways of life and "helping" them by imposing our "better ways")
Another thought: who qualifies as being 'poor enough', 'unprivileged ENOUGH', to be 'blessed' by the 'saintly pity' of the 'defenders of the poor'? What are the qualifications? Isn't this entirely subjective? And who are we to label others as such?
I've traveled in Central America, Rural Asia, Africa, and seen what us westerners might classify as “real poverty”. But who are we to say that our way of life is more correct or more desirable. A lot of those people I saw couldn’t be happier with their (presumably) simpler way of life, more connected to the land, less fraught with human-invented worries and pressures. and if you’ve seen the BBC documentaries “Human Planet” it’s amazing to see the level of intuition, connection, joy, fulfillment that people have who are very “impoverished” indeed, like groups who live in a forest with nothing but loincloths. Should we pity them? Again, who are we to say that our way of life is more correct or more desirable. It’s interesting to consider that, perhaps it's only in areas where our western way of life has been imposed as the “ideal”, and all the people aspire to cram themselves / be crammed into this one way of living, (but maybe it's at odds with what is previously established in a land), that the “disparity” becomes perceived and that “poverty” appears.
Wherever someone is from, by insisting that someone is “stuck in poverty”, you’re saying they are lesser, they are not as resourceful as what literally characterizes the human race. Our resourcefulness is what has let us survive as a species, even though we are just soft mushy things with no teeth or claws, it’s our resourcefulness and stamina and creative thinking and problem solving. How dare you take that away from people by insisting they are stuck in what we term “poverty”.
To be honest, I think unfortunately that one reader completely missed the point of my message. (which is ok, obviously no one's work can reach or appeal to everyone, and that's reality!) But I wanted to consider and express what the point really was, as much for myself as for anyone else reading this.
The point of my email (and Steve Siebold’s book) was NOT to separate the “poor” from the “rich” (which by the way I think is just a point of perspective anyway — it’s fully possible for someone to FEEL or VIEW THEMSELVES AS or LIVE AS IF THEY ARE very poor or very rich indeed, regardless of the amount of possessions or money that they have).
The point is to show that ANYONE can “THINK RICH” and therefore create different results or experiences in their lives, whatever exactly that might look like for them. We ALL have the powerful tool of thought, belief and choice at our disposal, even if our resources may seem limited. I believe there are always small shifts that can be made, and incomprehensibly unforeseeably magical gifts that can come to us if we believe it is possible, open ourselves up, simply ASK the universe, and follow the breadcrumbs with faith.
The point is putting these empowering thought habits and tools and choices in the hands of anyone who cares to read the book, or engage with my work. It’s exactly the opposite of labeling, separation and closing doors, and rather inviting in ABSOLUTELY ANYONE who is deciding to make a change, chooses to believe a better life is possible for them, and wants to make the minuscule effort to spend a few bucks on their iBooks account or maybe 50 cents at a used bookstore or garage sale, or sit on the floor at the bookshop or go to the library and read books for free.
What do you think? Is it necessary to sing woe-is-me songs about ourselves, or others, because it's somehow compassionate or noble, or something? Shouldn't we focus on (even despite the difficulties) the GENERAL AMAZING THRIVING AND GOODNESS AND LOVE in our world and how POSSIBLE things are, even tiny tiny things at a time that eventually add up? And how actually RICH we all are simply because we're here on this RICH amazing earth that offers us so much? I mean really!!!! If you remove modern, western perceptions of "poverty" and what a person "should have", because it's "fair", and because people should live up to a certain condition that our industrialized society has deemed to be "correct"?
Since when does telling shitty stories, about yourself, or others, and how "legitimately really hard things are", EVER, EVER, SERVE ANYONE, or produce ANYTHING good?
And finally, if I'm targeted for daring to see every person on earth as powerful and capable, and for standing up for what’s possible for women (and people in general), and for inviting them to stand up for themselves despite any past story they may have experienced... If I refuse to put people in a box and acknowledge that "yes, they are the truly downtrodden ones"... If I am criticized or ridiculed for pointing out how much GOODNESS is out there available for everyone if we choose to see it, and how ANYONE can choose to create ANYTHING in their lives no matter how “adverse” the circumstances might seem…
...then please, target away!!! Because I believe that message is worth standing up for.