What comes to mind you hear the word “poor”?

For me, I think of people without money, who are obviously unhappy. Their lives must be unfulfilling because they are without the one thing needed to have true wealth. They probably suffer.

Our government, society, and the media all condition us to think that life revolves around money because without it, we won’t survive. So starting when we’re young, we’re instilled with fear from the idea that the only way to survive on this planet is to get and save as much money as possible, and it’s no easy task, so it must be the focus of our lives. We have to chase money or perish.

So we have this society where everyone is running around trying to make money for themselves, even if it means stealing from neighbors or kicking homeless people off the street. We’re all animals at the core so when it comes down to it, we’re just looking after ourselves before anyone else, right?

I’ll never forget when I worked in San Francisco, where I prided myself on working for an organization that helps lift people around the world out of poverty. I’ll also never forget the internal battle I faced on a daily basis on my walk to work when I passed countless homeless people begging for money or screaming for help, yet decided to put my blinders on and keep walking.

There is a strong fear holding us back from seeing the world as it truly is. We might be individual people, but we’re a single species and we were not put on this planet to independently chase after money our entire lives until death. We were not built to live independently from other people and only care for ourselves. But we’re taught otherwise.

When I visit villages in Senegal, it’s like a paradigm shift has occurred and suddenly people have true values. To the people I visit in these villages, money isn’t the focus, and not just because they don’t have a lot, but because they weren’t taught that that’s what life is all about. The people here might be our definition of “poor” but they don’t act like it. No matter how little money they have, they don’t think twice about offering you some food or whatever they can because what matters is sharing and kindness and human interaction and relationships and not superficial man-made paper.

By our definition these people are poor, because we define success and richness as having money, and they don’t have much. But look at what they do have—they are surrounded by family and neighbors and friends they consider family and everyone cares for each other and looks after one another and grows together like the other species do. They have the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen and they’ll never rush a conversation or fail to say hi and ask you how you are and actually care about your response. Their support system is like a never-ending family tree that is always growing and never judging.

But in our eyes, they’re poor.

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Now this isn’t a cry for socialism or a demand that people act more generously. I’m 110% against forcing people to help others against their will, because I don’t believe that true change occurs when it comes top-down. And I’m definitely not saying that people without money don’t suffer, or that all people with money do. But I do believe that it’s important for people to realize the lies we are conditioned to believe in our society surrounding money and what life on this earth could look like if we chose to look past our fear to see the truth.

 

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