What Icebergs Teach Us about Poverty

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Sometime in my mid-twenties, I was introduced to the full picture of an iceberg. Of course, this was not the first time I had heard about or seen a picture of an iceberg. However, it was the first time I truly understood how massive they are despite the small point of ice you often see above the surface.

I learned only ten percent of the iceberg (I think I used to say twenty to thirty percent so I apologize to everyone I misled) is actually visible about the surface, leaving an incredible ninety percent below the water. I learned this is a perfect analogy for us as humans, the parts we reveal about ourselves only a small overflow of the ninety percent of us that lives below the surface in our hearts. I came to understand that true change only happens when it occurs below the surface, in the places we rarely reveal to the world or even acknowledge ourselves. As many can attest, this became somewhat of an obsession for me. In fact, I have a t-shirt to prove it (Thanks, Bill!), and more than likely have written about it in many previous blog posts.

It turns out, this concept of an iceberg might be more of a general truth than just an analogy for our internal and external “selves”. This is certainly the case with poverty.

When we look at poverty, we see hunger, unemployment, homelessness, education and healthcare issues, and so much more. We attempt to address these issues by devoting time, energy, money, and other resources, and yet they rarely seem to change in the long-term. It can almost leave us with the impression that poverty is winning and the battle to eradicate it is hopeless.

I know I have found myself feeling this way. I can remember many days while living in Nicaragua when I was not sure I was actually making a difference. I would give what felt like all I had only to see what started with great promise end in apparent failure. It was in part because of these experiences I began to understand poverty is much deeper than what we see above the surface.

Instead of seeing the societal issues we often think of as poverty itself, I started to see them as outflows, or symptoms, of something much deeper. Like an iceberg, there was something much larger propping them up from beneath the surface. What is this underlying sustainer of one of the world’s greatest problems? It is what I call the “Lie of Hopelessness.”

What is this lie? It is the belief that people, and the communities they live in, are truly hopeless. The lie is perpetuated by a lack of both practical and spiritual hope, or to put it another way, a belief that someone is destined for a life of “less than” combined with the inability to access real opportunities to move beyond their current reality. This is the deep root of the extreme poverty that continues to infect our world today.

So what do we do? We need to cut off the root! It is in eradicating the Lie of Hopelessness through the infusion of real practical and spiritual hope that poverty as we know it begins to lose it’s grip on the world. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely. More on what this might look like in future posts.

James Belt

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