Sunday, February 26, 2006

(Mis)Understanding the Poor

I suspect that many of the advocates for the poor, including the organizers and promoters of the ONE Campaign, have never been poor and don’t really understand what it is like to be poor. There are at least two main reasons why people with money don’t understand the lives of people without money.

The first main reason why the wealthy are misinformed about poverty is the same as why people are misinformed on most issues. The news media, particularly the major networks and newspapers, present an unbalanced view of poverty. In mainstream media reports, the poor are always depicted as needy, helpless, and abused by the uncaring wealthy, which is true in some situations, but completely false and misrepresented by the media in most situations.

The second main reason has to do with feelings about money. People born into wealth, people who have spent a lifetime working to acquire wealth, and people with big ambitions, place a disproportionate amount of importance on wealth, including possessions, activities, and everything else that can be purchased with money. Similar feelings about money are true for some of the poor, but the vast majority of the people who are poor have other priorities besides wealth and the trappings of wealth. People who are wealthy may not understand how money can be unimportant to others, or even believe that money is unimportant to others, but for most of the poor, poverty is a choice; a logical, moral, and good choice.

Misconceptions wealthy people have about poor people can cause all sorts of unintended problems for the poor people when the wealthy people, either out of guilt or misplaced compassion, decide to use their wealth, power, and influence to try to help the poor people. Guilt and compassion can lead to the right behavior when the behavior is based on the truth and not the misconception. Therefore, it is vitally important for the wealthy people to know the truth and start to change how they view and treat the poor.

In my next post, I will address and correct some of these misconceptions.


Anonymous said...


Worthy insights, rarely part of the amalgam used to fill the perceived need; and for precisely the reasons you have begun to enumerate.

Oh that the wealthy-mindsets that populate the pulpits, the NGO's, and other founts from which flow the "milk of human kindness"---and money understood this as clearly as you do.

I look forward to both the continuation and the conclusion of this series of your blogs.

Derek Simmons

David M. Smith said...

Thank you Derek,

I hope I don’t disappoint you. I always try to present a point of view that is different from what is being presented by others. I don’t intentionally try to be different; I just don’t see the point of parroting what is being presented elsewhere. This is a very important topic that those who should know better, like two of our favorite pastors, are getting wrong.

By the way, what are NGO’s? I suspect I should know, but I don’t.