Purpose in poverty?

Purpose in poverty?

24 January 2012

20 January 2012

Life is not fair.  Some people have much and others have little.  Wanting more than we have is a common response to this hard reality. Traders feed that desire by teasing us, or our kids, with the newest must-have model.  The cycle quickly becomes repetitive, as anyone with teenagers will confess.

Wanting more for your kids, especially if you're trapped in poverty, is seen in our society as a reasonable goal.  Why wouldn't it be when the Christchurch Health and Development Study suggests that if you're poor in the first 10 years of life, you will earn less than those raised in rich families, are more likely to leave school without qualifications, have babies before you're 20, commit crimes, go on welfare or have addiction and other mental health problems as an adult.
 
The human response to this social and political embarrassment is to try and fix it.  Ministerial committees, goals, action plans, green papers, white papers, all manner of interventions are developed to make good an injustice.  
 
In spite of ongoing attention to the problem, the New Zealand Herald reports that 26% of New Zealand children lived in 'poor families' in 2010, roughly double the proportion during the 1980s.  
 
We are caught in a repetitive cycle with government unintentionally teasing us as traders do, raising expectations that can never be met unless our whole system of living is reformed.  
 
Coming to grips with the unfairness of life at an individual level is an essential human task. This is especially so in our consumer driven society, which operates on the impossible dream of trying to satisfy each and every human need.  In other words, while it remains important to address injustice, happiness is unlikely to arrive through meeting all needs.
 
Viktor Frankl was a successful psychiatrist in Vienna when the Nazis invaded.He was subsequently imprisoned in four different concentration camps.  Despite everything being stripped away from him he managed to regain a sense of purpose through that time of terror even when his basic needs could not be met.
 
Frankl said in his best selling book, Man's Search for Meaning  that suffering is unavoidable but we can choose how we cope with it and find meaning in it.  He believed that our primary drive in life is not pleasure but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful, especially purpose that takes us beyond our own concerns.  
 
Finding purpose and meaning in life beyond oneself is also becoming a central theme in the process of trying to define what we call spirituality in the 21st century.  Interestingly, it also lies at the heart of the great world religions.
 
Despite best efforts, life remainsunfair and uncontrollable.  What is under our control is how we respond to it, find meaning and in the process develop our spirituality.