In praise of poverty (1): Poverty as a chosen lifestyle

There are many aspects to poverty. Of course what usually comes to mind when we hear the word ‘poverty’ is usually something negative and undesirable. We tend to immediately associate poverty with lack of human dignity and injustice. No doubt that these are realities in the world and there’s no point questioning rhetorically whether poverty is negative and whether all people should strive to eliminate poverty from the world. Quite honestly I don’t feel competent enough to discuss the issue on an economical level nor on a societal level: I only have the basic knowledge in the subject that any citizen of Europe should have.

I would like to shed light on an aspect that is not as frequently discussed: poverty as a lifestyle. There are people who for religious reasons or else for their ideals, actually choose to live a poor life. Some do this as an act of solidarity, others do this in order to focus more on the truly essential things in life, such as God,others do this to reach a level of consciousness that goes beyond the immediately observable, as did the neo-platonists of antiquity.

While many people tend to think one can ‘buy’ freedom with money, meaning that having money allows one to do so many things, it is quite an observable phenomenon that it is those with less material wealthy who tend to feel freer, and therefore happier. On a very logical level, not having much wealth to care for, gives one less responsibility and less worries. Many relatively well-off people tend to over-work in order to safeguard their possession, often with the result that they neither spend time with their loved ones, nor enjoy enough the benefits of being wealthy. On a different level, less economically well-off people also tend to be more generous. It seems that they are freer from their possessions. So many missionaries come back telling everyone that they have actually received more than they have given and that people in the poor countries they have been in, are generally happier then so many of us in the West. Here we already start making sense of Christ’s exhortation in Luke’s gospel: “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” (Lk 6, 20)

What the vast majority of people are afraid of is loneliness (not to be confused with solitude). They are afraid of living and dying on their own. This of course is a very legitimate fear, for humans are social creatures. Even on a theological level, we find in Genesis, God saying that it is not good for man to be on his own. Contrary to what many people, consciously or unconsciously, think, wealth will not buy truly meaningful relationships that eliminate loneliness. On the other hand, deliberately and freely choosing to lead a life of poverty, will necessarily open up one’s heart for others. Being affectively attached to material wealth builds isolating barriers from others, but being free from such wealth leaves space for relationships to grow.

2 thoughts on “In praise of poverty (1): Poverty as a chosen lifestyle

  • Reply Ramon Casha 8th October 2013 at 9:13 pm

    I myself have never been poor so I can’t really speak from experience, but is it really poverty if you choose it for yourself – and especially if you can choose to “leave” poverty behind if you change your mind? I think that’s a frugal lifestyle not a poor one. I can make do with very little if I decide to put myself through it, but at all times at the back of my mind would be the knowledge that, if I want to, I can drop everything and head for the nearest 5-star restaurant and buy everything on the menu. I think that making do with little because you have no choice is a very different situation to be facing.

  • Reply Robert Falzon sdb 10th October 2013 at 4:02 pm

    We think that if one does not own things one is poor, whether one chose it or not. If one chooses it and renounces everything, and then it happens one changes his or her mind, he or she would still need to start afresh… of course several factors such as family of origin would affect how much that new start would be easy or difficult, but it remains a fact that if he or she had given everything up, he or she has nothing and can therefore be called poor.

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