The Truth About Poverty Porn

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The Truth About Poverty Porn

How One Story Becomes The Only Story

Stereotypes about poverty abound and images, sometimes referred to as “poverty porn,” are prevalent. Intended to evoke feelings of compassion, an emaciated child stands in a dusty road, the broken down huts behind her. No translation necessary. Help alleviate hunger for a child. And, certainly we should.

There is a problem with these images, however, even if they are meant to be helpful. They perpetuate stereotypes. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer said this; “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

One of the biggest problems with poverty porn is that it can fail to awaken the mutual need we share with our neighbors. This can lead to dangerous paternalism, rather than community empowerment. Our worldview about the poor must be challenged if there is to be any progress in eliminating it. We must put aside our limited ideas, and work to truly understand poverty and the people it impacts on a deeper level.


Our work is based on the premise that everyone should have the resources to envision and develop a positive future story.

 

Many of us fall prey to the myth that we have done something to earn our place in the middle or upper classes of society. We tell ourselves that we have worked hard and made good decisions. Certainly hard work and gaining wisdom is important and necessary. But, we must understand that hard work and thoughtful decisions do not guarantee success. We should also check ourselves when we define success and make sure that financial security is not the sole measure of it.

Ground-breaking work by Dr. Ruby K. Payne, Philip DeVol, and Terie Dreussi-Smith is outlined in their book “Bridges Out of Poverty.” Their research has led to programs and processes that support the creation of sustainable communities where lives are improved because of teamwork and mutual respect between those within poorer communities and those from outside of it.

In their study guide, they write, “Looking at economic class in a nonjudgmental framework allows us to respect one another and evaluate the resources and choices available to us that may not be available to others. This work is based on the premise that everyone should have the resources to envision and develop a positive future story.”

 

Breaking The Chains of Shame

“Bridges” also suggests that building resilience for those trying to move up out of poverty is important, and more likely if there is a moral compass. Believing that there is a higher purpose, and a higher power that can guide their life and actions is a powerful element when fighting the feelings of worthlessness that poverty brings.

Mentors, for both children and adults, are also integral to the process. A mentor can help improve coping strategies, offer positive feedback, use their more extensive network to gain support for the efforts to improve the community, and much more.

More importantly, mentors are there to love, accept and share the good news that the way the world sees those living in poverty is not accurate. Their number one task is to listen, and encourage those less fortunate that they have gifts to cultivate, stories to share, and much to offer. This is what leads to real transformation, and not just in the lives of the poor, but in those who seek to help them.

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