Could You Be Putting Poverty in a Box?

Good morning from Managua, Nicaragua!

Have you ever thought you had the solution to a problem only to realize your viewpoint of the problem was unknowingly limited? It is like believing you had found the last piece to the puzzle until you took a step back and could see that you were only working on one small corner of a much larger picture. This has happened to me many times in life. It is not typically because I do not want to see or understand the entire picture, although I am sure I could think of a few moments that would fit into that category. In most cases, I had no idea that the small mental box I had put the problem in was obstructing my view until something came along and expanded my box. Can you relate?

Could this be the case for many of us with poverty? I know it has been for me. I used to believe I had a clear understanding of poverty, why it exists, and how to solve it. While I certainly believed environment played a role, it often boiled down to better decision making. In other words, I saw poverty as primarily an issue of personal choices. My thought process was their, or maybe their parents’, bad choices landed them in poverty. Had they made better decisions, they would not be in this situation. The solution? Make better choices. If the person in poverty wants to escape, they just need to make better choices.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you even find yourself agreeing with the statements above. However, what if the box in which we put poverty is far smaller than the reality, obstructing our view and preventing us from truly understanding this issue? I found this to be true for myself.

When I started to become more curious about the poverty in Nicaragua and how I could make a difference, I was still viewing it through the small mental box I had unknowingly put it in. In my recently released book, Hope Realized, I tell a story about a trip I took to visit a coffee cooperative in Nicaragua and my “accidental promise” to solve their sales challenges. I believed I had the answers. While I am sure my ego played into it, it was my inability to see the entire picture that ultimately made me believe I could quickly solve a very nuanced and deep problem. This experience made me take a step back and begin to ask if there could be something I am missing. It was the moment I began to see that I had put poverty in far too small of a box.

This is the issue for most of us. It is not that we do not want to understand poverty, the reasons it exists and persists, and how to help people overcome it–all of us would vote “yes” to a world with less poverty and more universal flourishing. It is that we do not know we have put it in a box, limiting our perspective and leading us to make assumptions about why people are in poverty and the simple steps they need to take to escape.

It was when I moved to Nicaragua that my “box” and understanding of poverty began to change. As I developed relationships with people in impoverished communities and gained a better understanding of their story, I realized that they were a lot like me. This forced me to ask why someone with the same God-given potential and desire to thrive would live in such a different reality. My box now expanding, I realized that while everyone is born with incredible God-given potential, not everyone has the same opportunity to exercise it. I started to see that there was something much deeper perpetuating poverty than the symptoms to which we often point.

This journey led to me to the lie of hopelessness and its role in allowing poverty to persist despite the resources committed to overcoming it. It also revealed that overcoming a lie of hopelessness that is both spiritual and practical would require real hope that is both practical and spiritual. To say it another way, it is a reframed identity and a real opportunity that produces the all-in hope necessary to create real, sustainable change in impoverished communities.

One of the best byproducts of expanding my box and gaining a fuller picture of poverty is I am more hopeful than ever about our ability to create change. When we clearly understand a problem we can confidently take steps to move beyond it. While I am sure I still have a lot more to learn, I believe real change through real hope is possible.

Do you want to gain a better understanding of poverty, how to overcome it, and the role you can play? Check out my book, Hope Realized. You can also download a free resource I created called 5 Foundational Steps to Make a True Difference in Someone’s Life for a few practical steps you can take today. Click here to sign up to receive the guide.

Want to created a more hope-filled world? Move beyond your box.

James Belt

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