Poverty is Complex

In my last post I mentioned that there were two things I want everyone to remember from Poverty 101. The first is that “It’s all about relationships.” The second is that “Poverty is Complex.”

Everyone who has lived in poverty, everyone who studies poverty, everyone who works with those in poverty understands that poverty is about a lot more than money and that there are no simple definitions. And my experience is that attempting to describe it is a little like a blind man trying to describe an elephant from the experience of touching the side of the animal. There will be so much that we miss in our description and in our understanding.

No matter what your source of news, it is likely that you will someday hear a pundit, regardless of their political persuasion, talking about poverty. And they will likely say something like this, “Poverty is caused by…” And they will complete that sentence by articulating only one cause. I always tell people that if they ever hear that, they can stop listening to everything that person has to say, because that “expert” doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

And a fully fleshed out understanding of the issue of poverty is so important. Because as the authors of When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert point out, our definition of poverty will determine how we attempt to address it. Or as they put it, the “Diagnosis Shapes the Prescription.”

If we are going to make of difference in the lives of those living in the cycle of generational poverty we have to humbly approach the subject. We have to study, we have to read, we have to dig deep. We have to seek God’s wisdom. And we have to listen to the voices of the poor, because it is from those children of the King that we will learn the most.