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The problem of poverty

Posted by Ammon on November 15, 2011

I recently finished “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis.  It led me to quite a bit of introspection and contemplation. While the book doesn’t exactly say these words, I understood the main thesis of the book to be: while God does not cause our pain, he knows that it is necessary for us to grow, so he allows it for our experience and benefit.

Physical pain is our body’s natural way of sending us a message that something is wrong.  C.S. Lewis also mentioned spiritual and emotional pain.  These are also indicators to let you know when something is wrong.  When we experience any kind of pain, we are often tempted to seek to get rid of the pain simply for the sake of getting rid of the pain, which is probably the worst thing we can do for the pain.  The pain is an indicator that we need to fix something and taking the pain away, without taking away the cause of the pain can cause serious damage.  The best thing for us to do when we are experiencing pain in our lives, is to evaluate the cause of the pain and seek to solve the cause.

We must also be careful to differentiate between the cause of the pain and the pain itself.  If I have a severe abdominal pain I can do many things to alleviate that pain, but only finding the cause of the pain and fixing that will I truly benefit myself.  In thinking about this, I am reminded of an episode from “Little House on the Prairie” where a young man has the pain of his appendicitis taken away by a so called “faith healer” that was going from town to town deceiving people by having hired people ahead of time to pretend to be healed, and he would gain a following, and their associated tithes.  The problem was that the healer only took away the pain, not the appendicitis.  The boy died as a result, all because the pain was not there to tell him that there was something wrong with his body.

Contemplating pain, I reflected on the other less temporal pains that I have in my life, and wondered what is the cause of these pains.  Like many people experience in our society, I often experience economic pain, also known as poverty, or lack of financial resources.  This type of pain is no different from any other.  It is the way our economic environment tells us that something is wrong.  That there is something that we need to do in order to relieve the pain.

There is a problem in our society when it comes to pain, especially economic pain.  Recently we have seen an attempt by some to address the source of their economic pain by blaming corporate CEO’s and “occupying Wall Street”, blaming their boss, legislators, or their parents.  This approach fails to address the cause of the economic pain.  Just as all attempts by our elected officials to “stimulate” the economy.  The falsely assumes that the solution comes solely from people spending money, so they give away money through government grants and entitlement programs.  This is similar to giving someone with severe adbominal pain some morphine thinking this will solve their problem, instead of helping them to find a cure for what is actually causing the pain.

Exchange is what stimulates the economy and creates wealth, so it is understandable that people could make the mistake and think that if only people had more money, the economy would grow.  However, this would be like saying that because a morphine addict feels pain when his body is going through withdrawals the solution is to continue to give him morphine.

Without money, exchange would be more difficult and cumbersome.  If we wanted to exchange with someone else, we would need to obtain something they require or want in order to gain something they have that we require or want.  This is called bartering and it can still happen today, but money make exchange so much easier and increases how often it happens, that the solution should also not be to get rid of all currency.  The solution is to encourage production, innovation, and value creation.

I have heard Dave Ramsey, on his radio talk-show, speak about how the solution for the recession is each individual taking full responsibility for their own economic situation.  Each individual is can get themselves out of this recession.  He is correct.  Each individual needs to follow the advice of Ghandi and “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

There are many mistakes we all make concerning pain, but two in particular that I think are very prominent in today’s culture.  Because pain is an important part of growth we could assume that we should seek out and experience pain, or that we should avoid helping people who are in pain.

Pain that we experience ourselves should be evaluated for it’s causes so we can progress and improve ourselves.  There will never be any shortage of pain and opportunities for growth in our lives.  Pain is unpleasant for a reason – so that we will not want it in our lives and will want to get rid of its causes.  Life is meant to be enjoyable and pleasant.  Seeking out pain is a waste of time.  Our time is better spent seeking out ways to make life a joy for ourselves and seeking to create a joyful experience for others.

The pain we see in others should be seen as an opportunity to produce, innovate and create value.  Of course in our search to alleviate the pain of others we must make sure that we are not either robbing them of the valuable opportunity to grow by overcoming their own pain, or causing serious damage by eliminating the pain without eliminating the cause, but sometimes pain can be so severe that growth is inhibited.

I remember a time when I was feeling extremely ill.  I had a severe headache and it wasn’t until I took some mild pain medication that my body began to heal itself.  Our bodies are amazing machines which can heal themselves most of the time if given the right environment.  Part of that right environment is to be focusing on the root of the problem and not on the superficial pain.  The same is true about economic pain.  Often people are focusing so much on the pain that they can’t focus on finding a solution.  Having compassion and giving a little temporary assistance may allow some people to get back on their feet again.  However, for some people, what they need most is to dig themselves out.  This can never be decided using a system.  It has to be decided by individuals looking at individual situations – not by institutional employees following policies.


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