As stated in part 1, the poor are the people in our communities who are vulnerable. The Bible (especially the Old Testament) continually mentions four groups of people that are the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, immigrants, and poor. In our culture, you could add the migrant worker, the elderly, the homeless, single parents, and those with AIDS.
In her definitive work, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Dr. Ruby Payne defines the vulnerable (she uses the term “poverty”) as those who lack the basic resources to succeed in our culture. She then lists eight basic resources. To one degree or another, the poor are lacking in these resources:
- Financial: Having the money to purchase goods and services. Dr. Payne writes, “…the reality is, that financial resources, while extremely important, do not explain the differences in the success with which individuals leave poverty nor the reasons that many stay in poverty. The ability to leave poverty is more dependent upon other resources than it is upon financial resources.”
- Emotional: Being able to choose and control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior. This is an internal resource and shows itself through stamina, perseverance, and choices. Emotional resources, according to Dr. Payne, are the most important resources because it keeps people from returning to old habits.
- Mental: Having the mental abilities and acquired skills (reading, writing, computing) to deal with daily life.
- Spiritual: Believing in divine purpose and guidance.
- Physical: Having physical health and mobility.
- Support Systems: Having friends, family, and backup resources available to access in times of need. These are external resources.
- Relationships/Role Models: Having frequent access to adult(s) who are appropriate, who are nurturing to the child, and who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.
- Knowledge of Hidden Rules: Knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group. In our culture the middle class is dominant and those in the lower class do not know the multitude of “hidden rules” in the middle class culture. This puts those in the lower class at a severe disadvantage. (Dr. Payne goes into great detail about these “hidden rules” in chapter 3 of her book, and that chapter alone is worth to price of the book.)
I believe, in order to fully understand what social justice is all about, and who and how to speak up and defend the vulnerable, you have to expand your definition of what it means to be poor.
What are your thoughts?
(Endnote: Dr. Payne discusses the eight basic resources in chapter 1 of her book. If you are interested in learning about poverty and don’t know where to start, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, is a must.)