5 Poverty Mindsets

Posted: October 27, 2011 in Spiritual Growth
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Do you clip coupons, reuse plastic bags, give to a local charity or church, save for your future, or create something of value to others? Our daily habits stem from our ideas about how to procure and sustain wealth and from our beliefs about ourselves. Our habits then perpetuate the outcomes that we experience day to day. For more on the subject, I highly recommend Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” I know that at times I have been subject to a poverty mindset that keeps me bound within the constraints of my limitations. I believe that opposite of poverty thinking is possibility thinking. It affects the realm of finances, but also reaches far beyond.

Here are five indicators to help you know if you might be operating from a poverty mindset:

1. You may have a poverty mindset if you seem unable to live within your means. (The Consumer)

Have you ever noticed a certain type of individual who can’t seem to keep anything nice, who seems to simply live to consume, rather than to contribute to the world around him? He will usually eat a lot, accidentally break things, and leave things worse than when he came. It seems that people like this always need more because resources slip through their fingers. The belief here is similar to a child, “I need to be taken care of. I am incapable of showing responsibility. Feed me, clothe me, clean up after me.” This belief system perpetuates poverty. A person like this has nothing left over to invest because he has already consumed everything in his path. He feels powerless over his state as though his wants were really needs. Such people need some of Dave Ramsey’s teaching and a mentor to help coach them toward disciplines that work. By contrast, people who are able to live within their means are capable of doing much more because they are disciplined enough to save and invest.

2. You may have a poverty mindset if you underestimate your own value. (The Undervalued)

It seems that the person who scrimps and saves can struggle with this poverty mindset, which is the flip side of The Consumer. I call it The Undervalued. Such people save and save and may be very frugal with what they have. There is nothing wrong with clipping coupons and reusing things, but these people are forced to be more frugal than necessary because they feel that they cannot ask for what they need or desire. They feel that they are unworthy of the resources that others acquire. They misunderstand the concept of giving. Giving should be done freely and from the heart, not under compulsion. The undervalued have a hard time asking for a fair wage. Now, this is not to say that people who give of themselves have a poverty paradigm. You can know your value and give it away anyway. It is only a poverty paradigm that makes you believe you have no choice. The Undervalued need to be reminded that allowing yourself to be taken advantage of is not a gift to the one who uses you, but that such a habit only enables further injustice. If you are allowing yourself to be undervalued, don’t be surprised if people treat you as though you were a slave. Look around and learn from others with similar gifts who are being valued for what they do. Ask them about their journey and make strides toward valuing yourself and what you do.

3. You may have a poverty mindset if you only see resources at face value. (The Pragmatist)

The poverty Pragmatist cannot see possibilities on the canvass of life. I am reminded of Judas, who condemned the woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. He was unable to allow his imagination to consider that this would be a worthy use of resources. The Pragmatist sees no value in art or music or beauty itself. She sees only on the surface of things, the face value and practical use of a thing. This person forgets that value placed on a thing is subject to the imagination of the buyer. These days we have people buying space online. People in our society are literally buying thin air. The crazy thing is that they are creating real wealth with it. If you find yourself quickly condemning people and organizations for seemingly “superfluous” use of resources, check yourself. Maybe you lack the imagination that others are better able to tap into.

4. You may have a poverty mindset if you fail to acknowledge needs and resource in others. (The Narcissist)

Two keys to possibility thinking are 1. Knowing how you can meet the needs of others. 2. Knowing how others can contribute to your goals or vision. In general, The Narcissists are a little like The Consumers, but a more grown up version of such a person. This person cannot see past the end of his own nose, though he may be highly talented. He does not get input from others, but proceeds along his merry way ignorant of what people want or need. He does not see others as assets, but as roadblocks or as people to be used. Then he wonders why so few value him or why he can’t make his dreams a reality. The opposite behavior wisely sees needs and meets them- sees people for their intrinsic value and seeks to draw out that value for the benefit of all.

5. You may have a poverty mindset if you work for a person or organization, rather than your own goals or calling. (The Dreamless)

It is great to serve the vision of another. But without a calling of your own, you end up like an aimless wanderer. A wise man once said, “I work for myself, not for my employer.” This does not mean that this person has selfish ambition. It means that he had his own mission beyond the mission of the organization he served. This man had his own vision for his life as a whole. A person who lacks the ability to dream and set her own goals, tends to blame others or external circumstances for her life situation. Your employer will be much more pleased with your work if you work from your own internal drive rather than to please others or for a paycheck. Ultimately, you will add value to the world when you are doing what you were put on this earth to do.

What ways have you found to overcome your own tendencies toward poverty mindsets?


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