Is Poverty A Fault?

Do you ever feel that it is wrong to be poor?

Do you sometimes feel that to be poor is a mark of failure?

Several days ago I read an article by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed In America, that challenges the common views in the United States about wealth and poverty.

She demonstrates how poverty evolved from being a condition of someone’s life to a cultural idea.  The change in our definition of poverty grew out of a book published the 1960’s and written by Michael Harrington. It was titled:  The Other America.

The book asserts that the poor are different from everyone else and interprets poverty to be a result of a flawed character. In other words

  • it is wrong not to be wealthy
  • it is a fault to live modestly
  • if you are not greedy there is something wrong with you
  • circumstances do not result in poverty; it is an innate condition coming from poor internal controls and profligate habits.

It is interesting that this book was published at the time that many individuals in economic minorities were entering the economic life of the country. Blacks, hispanics, and women were moving from dependent roles to full economic citizenship just as poverty and wealth were being redefined!

The “wealth is good” mindset served a number of purposes:

  1. it made an economic safety net the problem of the individual rather than the community. So any safety net was an act of generosity not a matter of responsibility or good citizenship.
  2. it immediately diminished any individual or groups who were not wealthy.
  3. each individual had to take care of their own safety net, which creates a hoarding mentality.
  4. as our population exploded, supply and demand created rising prices.  In order to take proper care of yourself, you needed more and more success in order to afford the best care – health care etc.
  5. individuals became more attached to careers to survive in this climate which reduced their investments in family and community.
  6. increased attachment to short-term financial concerns reduced loyalty to long-term sustainability concerns  – all in the interest of survival.

The “survival of the wealthiest” culture is a culture of stinginess.  It rewards those who pay the least and charge the most.  It is tailor made for a society with a burgeoning population and few safety nets.

When wealth became “normal” for our culture, it was a way of thinking that supported American exceptionalism and the material demands of our economic machine. All societies create a story that supports its intent, and our current society is no different.

As our environment collapses under the weight of our unrealistic identity, we need to start asking some questions.
  • are we only an economy or are we really a culture?
  • is generosity towards our fellow man really more expensive that a destructively consuming society?
  • how can the local community create a resource smart society
  • is snobbery our highest value?  How about health and well-being?

Perhaps the most important question we can ask is how do we create a cultural story that is worthy of our long term attention that honors each individual and the wonderful earth we inhabit?

Can You Identify These 5 Different Types of Loyalty in Your Life Or Our World?

Loyalty is one of those complicated subjects that can touch a nerve. It is like a two-edged sword; it can help us and make life worthwhile and also hurt us.   Loyalty is an important subject that is worth thinking about because issues around different types of loyalty are part of our basic social fabric and always have been.

Loyalty comes in many flavors and means different things to different people. Ideas about loyalty have changed as we humans have changed. Here are five different types of loyalty used in human culture:

  1. for some, loyalty is an absolute whether it is loyalty to a tribe or religion. Loyalty under these circumstances means loyalty not only overtly to the group, but also the beliefs, practices and expected behaviors. Since groups that seek absolute loyalty create dependency in their members, escape can be difficult.
  2. loyalty demands can manifest in rules and role requirements that have nothing to do with the individual’s abilities. These kinds of demands can feel like a kind of rejection of the individual, a yoke of slavery to group norms.
  3. for others, loyalty is extremely conditional. This is the type of person who operates on the “what have you done for me lately?” premise. The point of view of this kind of loyalty is economic rather than institutional.
  4. others think everyone deserves at least some loyalty since we are all “in this” together. The point of view of this person is universal.
  5. another type of loyalty is loyalty based on the inherent dignity of all living creatures, a kind of transcendent and transpersonal loyalty. This is the most spiritual kind of loyalty.

Getting A Handle On Different Types Of Loyalty

Loyalty on a one-on-one basis isn’t too difficult and is sometimes straightforward and based on the quality of the relationship. However, when you add the complex expectations of societal structures it can become messy. In all kinds of loyalty expectations, there are values underlying them that are often tied to the identities of people. This is why changing the values in an individual or a society can be difficult.  People create lives around our values and identities.

Highly sensitive people have a challenge with loyalty that others may not have. Since HSPs love very deeply, it causes them to act on values that others may not have. If I were to characterize HSP loyalty, it would be of the universal and spiritual kind. Unfortunately, this brand of loyalty may not be valued or reciprocated by others causing an HSP serious emotional pain.

It is very important for highly sensitive people to recognize the type of loyalty in those around them so that they form realistic expectations about their relationships with others. Errors in expectations can create a lot of hurt for HSPs, which they do not recover from easily.  As part of your self-care program, you need to take care of your relationship expectations.

How To Beat Triumphalism And Heal Emotional Wounds

Emotional wounds are very difficult to heal. They are even harder for highly sensitive people to recover from.

Have you ever wondered why that is?

What Happens To Emotional Wounds?

What is an emotional wound? An emotional wound is damage to our spirit and therefore our life force. It is an attack on our heart and soul. When we have an emotional wound it becomes part of our body and psychic system and stays there until healed.

For highly sensitive people the healing process is longer than for others. We get hurt more often, we see the hurt in the world around us and can be overwhelmed by the damage being done. We can feel wounded and helpless. Our bodies can become littered with unhealed emotional wounds which can make it very difficult for us to function.

As it is, we are already challenged by our sensitivity and stress levels so if we are harmed with emotional wounds, our health and well-being can be in serious trouble.

Do You Reinjure Yourself?

Emotional healing can be more difficult because we reinjure ourselves. Reinjury can happen with our intending it. The biggest cause of our reinjury and our greatest potential for healing comes from understanding the systemic nature of reinjury.

I appreciate the need for acountability and responsibility, however, we cannot heal unless we know what we are up against so that we can take constructive action. What we are up against is an approach to life called triumphalism.

What Is Triumphalism?

According to Wikipedia

Triumphalism is the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others. Triumphalism is not an articulated doctrine but rather a term that is used to characterize certain attitudes or belief systems by parties…

Triumphalism, then, is a group attitude shared by the individuals involved. Because of its social nature, it can be the basis of the group’s identity. Nationalistic, patriotic, religious and other groups often subscribe to triumphalism.

Triumphalist groups act to conquer others. Conquest is one of their primary missions.

If you examine modern cultural discourse, much of it has to do with conquest. Even those sectors of society that we think of as helping us like health care us conquest as their model:

  • conquering the common cold,
  • conquering various diseases
  • conquering old age

are all ways of speaking and talking about health. It’s all about an adversary that we are trying to subdue.

Triumphalist thinking about health care is evident in the media. Look at the television show House. Every show is a triumph against another health adversary – almost killing the patient.

How Triumphalism Hurts Us

Triumphalism is systemic therefore we encounter it every day in one form or another:

  • in other people
  • in social settings
  • at work
  • even in our families if that is how they think.

Unfortunately we are not having a public discourse on triumphalism, so it can be very difficult to get a handle on. When we discuss problems they tend to be thought of as individual problems. By personalizing problems in a triumphalist system, we put the burden of compliance on the person while expecting them to support a triumphalist system that can only hurt them. We essentially have stacked the deck against the individual without being really honest about it.

In a triumphalist system, your value is dependent on your contribution to sustaining that system. If you do not subscribe to triumphalist thinking then you perceived value automatically goes down. That can be very frightening in a world with few safety nets.

Triumphalism shows up in our daily interactions with others. It is the source of snobbery and one upsmanship because triumphalism pits one against the other. If you are not into competitive social engagement and most HSPs are not, then you may feel very out of sync with your world. Because you are!

How To Heal Those Emotional Wounds

Healing emotional wounds take time but here are some tips to heal from triumphalism and take your life back:

  1. take stock of your life and how many wounds may have come from triumphalist thinking and behavior that caused you to feel devalued or worse
  2. take stock of how much triumphalist thinking is a part of your life through
    • work
    • family
    • friends
    • activities
  3. recognize that you may need to make some changes to reduce the incidence of triumphalist events and people in your life.
  4. list where you have more collaborative relationships and see if you can develop more.
  5. if your work environment supports you, terrific! If not look at how you can use your current skills in a more creative or collaborative environment and consider starting a process of job change.
  6. see if those who have harmed you are in the triumphalist camp and whether you can let go of the negative experience. If you see that behavior as unacceptable to you and one that you are phasing out of your life, your constructive action can help make it easier to forgive and let go.
  7. develop strong self care routines. Nothing defeats triumphalism like great self care. Take great care of yourself is actually a revolutionary act.

You Can Heal

By treating triumphalism as an impersonal and mistaken approach to living, you can take back your life, honor your past, and elevate your needs for healing and quality of life. Depersonalizing the hurtful behavior helps you pull your energy in so that you are not available for further destructive interactions. You will be freeing yourself for more positive relationships and pursuits. You will also be freeing yourself to develop your creative potential.

HSPs have suffered for a long time from the dark side of triumphalism.

We deserve better and should give ourselves the better lives we deserve.

Is The Quick Fix Killing Us?


Is the quick fix killing us?

Until the capitalistic system emerged which harnessed nature to satisfy unmet human needs, the history of the human race had been a history of poverty and misery. Our current economic system came into being to solve the problem of poverty and now it seems to be returning us to poverty.  It is worth understanding why.

At the risk of stating the obvious, our environmental condition is dire, and our institutions, infrastructure, educational system and social system all need serious overhaul.  We have less than 40-80 years of topsoil left.  How are we going to feed ourselves, let alone the rest of the world? The side effects of relying on unrestrained markets for our economic well-being are destroying us.

The primary value of capitalism is growth, not health. So tradeoffs are made compromising our health in order to promote growth. This compromise occurs in all areas of life: health, infrastructure, social safety nets, environment etc. Capitalism is a short-sighted system.

Take health for example. Although we have health care in the United States, health is not a value that we promote.  Many of us work ridiculous hours under exceptionally stressful conditions never knowing when we will lose our jobs and homes, hanging on by a thread hoping to survive.  We eat too much processed food that is a prescription for illness. We medicate ourselves to keep going because often we are afraid not to or don’t know what else to do. Taking care of our health is hopping on a treadmill, popping vitamins and supplements.  If it isn’t a quick fix it’s probably not on our agenda.

The Quick Fix Is Pervasive

Unfortunately our society handles everything this way.  Where in our society do we approach our lives in a way to support our long-term health and well-being? Where do we or can we opt for something other than the quick fix? We are so used to the pendulum of crisis and the quick fix that we are often stuck and unable to find other options. We have become a society living off one quick fix after another, without the ability to stop and question the wisdom or consequences of this approach. Our society is like a runaway train.

The quick fix problem did not happen overnight.  In fairness, when capitalism came into being the human lifespan was short: 30-40 years.  Needs were dire, and natural resources plentiful compared to the number of people on the planet. Wikipedia estimates that the human population around 1805, close to the beginning of capitalism, was 1 billion and reached 2 billion in 1920. It took another 20 years to reach 3 billion and since then the human population has exploded.

So there are legitimate reasons for the quick fix problems we are facing.  It is difficult to keep up in a world of 7 billion people.  Dealing with the needs of 7 billion people does not leave a lot of time for long term strategy.  At an individual level it is a little bit easier, but at a systemic level, it is more challenging because one crisis after another will consume time and other resources. In the end, it sucks us all in at one time or another. Over time, all parts of our cultural ecology start to see wear and tear due to the depletion of resources and lack of maintenance.

It does not help that our capitalistic system in its race for the sale demands that everything occurs at breakneck speed.  If you are not fast, you are toast!  No wonder so many people are stressed, exhausted and depressed. Speed is not known for creating wise decisions or long-term thinking.

Since we support this system that creates solutions for our needs, we have been opting to sacrifice many resources to sustain it: our health, families, communities, and environment. We have sacrificed so much that the entire human and natural ecology is at the point of collapse.

There is a way out of this quick fix mess, a way to get off the runaway train, but it will take a new way of thinking.  It will take a holistic perspective, long-term strategies and a willingness to give up the short term quick fix for the long term benefit of all. HSPs are perfectly suited for this new way of being and will have a lot to do with leading us to a new way of life.

Why Aggression Is A Mistake

Aggression is a mistake.

Given the condition of human society at the moment, that may seem to be a radical statement. And perhaps it is.

It seems to stem from dogmatic, rigid viewpoints carried out in a culture.  I am not talking about religious dogmatism although people can be aggressive about their views. I am talking more about the spiritual, energetic experience of connection with all of life.

Spirituality is a different matter. Spirituality is very much about our commonality, about what we share. I had an interesting experience when I attended Tufts University when I was about 18 years old. I was on my way to class and all of a sudden I had to stop. When I did I experienced the wonderful awareness of the oneness of everything.  I stood on the sidewalk for a long time enjoying the experience. It was very comforting and joyful.

Meditation has a similar effect. It takes us out of our separateness. When I say “takes us out of our separateness”, I am not talking about a mental trick which is often what people think of when they think of harmony and unity. Our separateness is often a mental construct not a reality construct.

What I am talking about is the awareness that the same intelligence that informs your being informs the life of all other beings and things that exist. So the life of a cat or a mosquito is as full of the intelligence of the universe as you are.

Once you have that perspective, you have to shift away from a place of aggression to a more relaxed and accepting one and even a friendly one. I love how animals will have none of our silly rules and divisions. A giraffe is not preoccupied with why it is not a polar bear. They accept themselves and need none of the validation that we humans traffic in. I think they have it right.

I wish we would join them.

Why Kindness Is Winning

Kindness is winning!

Steven Pinker, the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, wrote an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Violence Vanquished, about the decline of violent conflict in the world, and how we have evolved to become more peaceful which means an increase in kindness.  The article was adapted from his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, published by Viking.

Mr. Pinker describes how over time we have passed through several stages of development, each of them reducing violence in the world:

  1. The first transition was from the early hunter/gather societies where people killed for food to agricultural societies when institutions started to be formed. Agriculture required the ability to store and protect food supplies which increased investment in a social structure and reduced crime.
  2. The second decline of violence occurred in Europe at the end of the feudal period. Apparently, killings declined 10-50 fold as nation states emerged, consolidating large territories and increasing the span of control of government institutions over greater areas of land.  This evolution had the additional effect of creating some standardization of laws which enabled commerce to flourish.
  3. The third transition which Mr. Pinker calls the Humanitarian Revolution, began with the Enlightenment and the effort to make human life more sustainable by harnessing nature to serve our largely unmet needs. The Enlightenment also ushered in democracy and even greater investment in social institutions.
  4. The fourth major transition is the one we are in with no world wars since the end of World War II called the Long Peace.

The Evolution Of Kindness

Over time we have a pattern of developing societies, institutions, and economies to ensure our survival on the planet that also makes human life more sustainable. As we have increased the sharing of power and responsibility, we have also reduced violence since people will not support a social structure that harms them.

Mr. Pinker points to the increase in humanitarian organizations and efforts that have exploded over the past century. Today the internet now makes humanitarian outreach a daily practice rather than something we do in our spare time.

Over time human rights have gradually triumphed over state rights which have been an important developmental shift in many human societies.  You could call it a rebalancing between the individual and the group.

The humanitarian evolution of our species has progressed to the point that empathy is becoming an important human value.  We now consider empathy to be one of the most important human characteristics which means that the basis highly sensitive people will become more welcome.

Mr. Pinker’s article is good news for HSPs. For a long time, sensitives had to hide their nature.  Now we are starting to be accepted.  As human creativity is evolving with our humanity, we may finally make a world which is good for all people, including highly sensitive people.