The Faces of Poverty

My planet is diseased with abject poverty. The overt face being the beggars on the world’s streets, the endless urban slums of hovels circumventing the planet; made from waste materials like discarded plastic sheets, skins as these are called, of advertising hoardings; and the countless emaciated souls with sunken, hopeless eyes who populate the enormous hinterland beyond the mega-cities. This is economic poverty – sad, humiliating, persistent. Every 3.6 seconds, 24 hours a day, every day, a person dies of starvation in this world. Every 3.5 seconds! Every single day, at least 800 million people go to bed without even one meal that day. Even in the world’s most affluent country, the United States of America, every 35 minutes, a child dies from poverty or poverty-related causes.

Any surprise then if over two thousand years ago, the student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great, philosopher Aristotle declared sagely that “the mother of revolution and crime is poverty.”?

But there is another poverty that is more depressing, more dangerous and even uglier. This poverty apparently is cancerous, spreading relentlessly and without the in-your-face realism of economic poverty. So you don’t see it but you can see the effects.

This poverty, paradoxical as it may sound, afflicts mainly the well-to-do. In fact you can even venture to say that it is directly proportional to the accumulation of wealth. The symptoms can be seen lucidly in those who fall victims to it, apparently without putting up even a semblance of serious opposition.

The clearest symptom is a huge amplification of arrogance. This is more often than not accompanied by a total loss of compassion. Sight too is affected, for the victims of this poverty are unable to see human misery and suffering and the agony and anguish of the hungry and the sick. They cannot see all this even at very close quarters, because their genre of poverty blinds them to it.

So what is this poverty then that causes such deprivation of goodness and impoverishment of concern? How does it come about? Indeed, why does it come about? What are the factors that trigger it? Which others catalyze it? Is there a way to counter it, or is it the terminal cancer that will eventually cause total mayhem?

Important questions these; relating to this dark, decadent, degenerative poverty. The poverty of the spirit. Spiritual poverty. When the self lives only for itself, when no tragedy is painful if not befallen on oneself, when we can make a difference at practically no cost and a little effort, but yet we just can’t seem to say, yes we can.

Spiritual poverty breeds selfishness, deceit, malice, intolerance, hate, anger. Spiritual poverty kills passion, compassion, love, understanding, patience, grace, modesty, giving, sharing.

Even thinking, leading to a variant I call Thought Poverty. This too can be seen all around if one pauses to reflect. It can be witnessed for instance, in a relatively mundane manifestation like uncreative or plagiarized advertising, or in longterm dama-ging symptoms like lack of planning for the future.

Infecting an individual, spiritual poverty is bad enough. Infecting whole societies, it is a recipe for great suffering. Infecting the leadership of a nation, it is a guarantee of chaos. Perhaps of a revolution; even of genocide.

Enter the corporate world with its lofty sounding attribute – corporate social responsibility. The do-good philosophy, or expanding it to the full, do good to others (society) so that they do good to you (continue to buy your goods and services). The self-serving incentive behind CSR, as cynics will point out. But Praetor says let it be so even, for in this case the end justifies the means.

If a company contributes in some manner to poverty alleviation just because it feels that a more affluent society means a bigger market and more sales, then all strength to this company I say! For if companies are stricken by spiritual poverty, they are but fuelling the fire of social discontent, which even-tually will engulf all, including the companies themselves.

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