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Jan 30, 2016

My thoughts: The Business of Poverty - Part 2 of 24

Always, we are in search of "something" and that may be anything - happiness, wealth, health, mating partner, water to drink (or for some alcohol to get intoxicated!!) or else what would be a meaning of our "existence"? Wanting "something", therefore, dictates our livelihood. In contrary: -"not wanting or not knowing what you want" could also direct your life to nowhere or bliss otherwise !!  In this context, the word "existence" itself is a bit heavy in terms of its philosophical  (mind) or even physical (body) derivation. After all, we all know that our existence is a balance between our mind and body if one of these get tilted towards dysfunction, then we starts to suffer. This is a simple truth.

A "Dalit" family in Sankhuwasabha, Nepal @ Anuj Bhattachan
For  part 2 of 24 discourse for the month of January on The Business of Poverty - I would again stress that the word "existence" definitely does have important part to play because it is in our existence that we struggle, we work, we suffer, we cry, we get disease, we get old, we die and of course, it is in this existence too, there can exist disparity in wealth, imbalance in your cognitive skills, or other extremes that you are super rich like Bill Gates (US), Mark Zukerberg (US), Rata Tata (India),  Binod Choudhary (Nepal). All in all - it has been more of wealth as an scale that demarcates us in the metric of rich versus poor in today's material world. It is in this metric that you could be judged (we like it or not !!) - therefore, I like to ponder why there are inequalities, poverty and all other maladies that accompanies with it?? We know there are volumes and volumes of books written to explain why we become poor or to be more specific stuck in the quicksand of "poverty"? There are various explanations through the lens socio - politico - economic observations and understandings as purely the act of "invisible hands" in the realm of market forces or in some corner of academic powerhouses - there could be explanation through the lens of fairness, justice and ethics and even, we could explain the root cause of "being poor" or poverty in terms of behavioral psychology. Whatever may be explanations, one aspect of poverty that we all agree to would be that "in poverty - each human soul suffers !!". When I say "suffering" - it is primarily the health of an individual (which in turns affect the whole family and the  community at large) in terms of physical, mental, social and political well being.

In this discourse – it is always pertinent to start ourselves asking the very basic question: what is “being poor”? What do you understand by poverty? Also, this question can be answered in lay person’s understanding or through academic definitions. First – let us try to understand what it means to be poor in terms of material world? Well – one way would be how you perceive yourself and how other perceives of you or family in terms of wealth that you possess. That means – if your wealth is below what your community agrees as minimum then you are perceived to be poor, otherwise you are not poor. This is one way of perception for “being poor” but I think – this is not complete because many of times we have seen many families in communities who are considered poor in terms of material possession but they seems to be happy despite scarcity. In this case – it is their psychological, familial, philosophical outlook that may play a vital role in portraying yourselves as poor or not poor. Therefore, “being poor” is relative term but not based on an absolute yardstick. When I say this statement, let me give you an example from my observation - we used to wonder why shepherds who lives in highland are always looked happy and jolly though they used to live with bare utilities at their disposal? But now we realize – it is not always lack of material wellbeing that makes you poor but rather it is your mental outlook that may strongly determine whether you poor or not. That is why there is a famous saying that “If you are born in a poor family, it is not your mistake, but it is your mistake, if you die poor!!” This saying says a lot and matches well with a principle in behavioral science, which says human behavior (B) is a function of your personality (P = genetic makeup and habits) and the kind of environment (E) you live in (B = P * E). It is your accumulated bag of habits through learning, influences or education that we behave in a way that is either detrimental to our well-being or guide us for better living [1]. Which means the human behavior is one of the key factors for either “being poor” or “not poor”!!

Our understanding that human behavior is a function of our personality make up and the environment that we live in guides us through the proper channel for further discourse. Here, let us put forward the thesis that “human behavior dictates you being poor or not” This statement initially puts the total responsibility on oneself or control over your destiny, however we have to remember that on further dissection of each variable like personality and the environmental factors then it a bit complex and complicated task to really understand the business of poverty or “being poor”. In this complexity – understanding the personality is itself a huge field that takes us into behavioral science, psychology, psychiatry, genetics, anthropology, sociology, history and even the field of law. While, at the same pace, we have to go deeper into similar field of study to understand the environment we live in and with. After all, our living environment can be both external and internal. Even the internal environment can be further broken down into internal milieu that is the physiology of our body and most importantly - our mind – our control center.

1. Health Behavior and Health Education - Theory, Research and Practice (4th Edition): Karen Glanz, Barbara K. Rimer and K. Viswanath

Seoul, 30 Jan 2016

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Anuj in Himalayas

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