Poverty is a state of mind

Have you noticed that the phrase “pissing on the poor” is mostly used by people with above-average incomes? I deliberately use the term “people with above-average incomes” and not “people who are not poor”. If someone called me poor in the 1990s, I would never have looked at him again. Why? Because to label someone as poor means to not recognize his control over his own life. As long as we don’t consider ourselves poor, there is hope for us.

Some would argue: “Don’t you think that our wealth depends on the system in which we live? For example, a slave is poor because the system has made him poor.”

First, wealth and being poor are two different categories. Wealth is an objective category that can be measured in dollars, or any other monetary unit. Being poor is a subjective category. It is a state of mind. A person is poor when he perceives himself only as a victim of external circumstances. This person does not believe that he has any power over his own life.

A slave has very little wealth, but this does not prevent him from choosing how he is going to view the world. Put yourself in his position. Imagine that you know that you will spend your entire life as a slave. Are you going to choose to spend your only chance at being alive on viewing yourself as a victim of the system or will you choose make the best of what you have? I would have opted for the latter. That’s why I gave a figurative “f… off” to all the UNPROFOR soldiers who pitied me as a victim of war and to all those who later pitied me as a refugee.

One might argue that this worldview does not motivate us to change the system. But, this interpretation would be wrong. When is the likelihood that people will change the system greater: when people are depressed and convinced in being complete victims of the system or when people are full of life energy? The fact that a slave may be full of life energy does not mean that he loves being a slave. It just means that if there is an opportunity for him to change his position, he will likely notice and take that opportunity. He will not wait for others to rescue him from his misfortune.

I know many of Canadians who could not fathom that someone could be happy in the conditions in which I once lived. When I told them that I was not desperate at the time and that I did not feel inferior to the people who lived in better conditions, they looked at me in disbelief. In fact, I was quite happy during that time. To them, I looked  like a slave who chose to view himself as the master of his domain.

Since the sense self-ownership, even in the worst of times, is still fresh in my memory and it feels quite real, I have no problem imagining, say, an American slave at the beginning of the 19th century, who feels this kind of self-ownership. I can fully understand his deliberate refusal to be “poor” even though his wealth and his freedom of movement were very limited. A person who is a slave in his own mind can not fight for physical freedom, and a person who is poor in his own mind can not fight for financial freedom.

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