Are The Unique Values of Poverty A Civic Benefit?

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

How do we end poverty and homelessness? Government, organizational heads, and advocates sometimes think it’s impossible. Could the key lie in the values of communities experiencing those problems? There are many stresses in the communities but do those stresses and that experience also cultivate egalitarianism which, if taught to others, could change the world?

In previous posts I’ve discussed Jennifer Sherman’s research  which indicates that financially stressed communities experience a shift in priorities placing more focus  on family and community.  I’ve also discussed how low income earners tend to be larger charitable donors (as a percent of income) then their upper class neighbors. Sherman’s field research and historical data on charitable giving all seemed to make more sense when I found reports of new psychological research from U Cal that suggests income does make a difference in our ability to be empathic and compassionate with others. 

The Ph.D. candidate that conducted the research, Dr Piff, is quoted in The New York Times as saying , “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.”  The Economist writes, “Dr Piff himself suggests that the increased compassion which seems to exist among the poor increases generosity and helpfulness, and promotes a level of trust and co-operation that can prove essential for survival during hard times.” Could it also prove essential for solving the stubborn civic challenge of homelessness and poverty?

Rampant poverty is America’s hard times.  How can this country survive and rekindle trust and cooperation with one another to solve these problems? All economic classes have things to teach and share with America.  If we listen and learn from people who’ve been challenged with hardship maybe their values and experience will lead us back to national healing. Worth a try?

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