TOWARDS A HOLISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF POVERTY
By Sister Wilhelmina Tunu
It is surprising that poverty continues to exist in the world despite the advances of modern technology. Poverty is a dehumanizing condition, generally understood as a lack of basic resources for survival. It is a pressing issue affecting the lives of millions of people. Donald Dorr rightly submits that “poverty is not something that happens but it is largely caused by human action of a kind that does violence to great masses of people.”
The phenomenon is not new in the world. However, in the 21st century when the world has undergone great technological advances it is unfortunate that we still talk of poverty. Its continued existence in the world threatens humanity and is an indication that it has been approached only as a political and economic problem. Yet it is first and foremost a human and moral problem. The phenomenon of poverty is not innate but an imposed problem. By contrast, in the traditional African way of life poverty did not exist on account of the deep sense of community. People lived a dignified life since there was care, respect and sharing among members, and everyone in the community had enough to live on. Therefore, today poverty can be viewed as resulting from dysfunctional relationships embedded in cultural, political and economic systems. These systems tend to dehumanize people by going against human dignity and human rights.
Having being created in the image and likeness of God, the godliness within every human person requires that all people are to be treated with respect. None loses his or her right to be treated with respect because of who he or she is or what he or she has. Our relationship with God is fundamental. Once we put God aside in our activities and in our relation with others, we cannot see Him in our brothers and sisters, so we become poor. To eradicate poverty, we need to see in every person the image of God. Therefore, respect for the principle of human dignity could be a positive approach towards eradication of poverty in the world. The ideal of human rights, correctly understood, emanates from the fact of being human as such. These rights do not depend on any other factors other than that of being human. They have to be recognized by all since they are valid everywhere and for everybody. Human rights represent basic human aspirations. Based on human nature, they promote the values of equality, freedom, solidarity and non-discriminatory relations among people. Given un-solidarity relations in the economic, political and cultural realms, there is need to reform human institutions in view of human dignity and human rights.
Moreover, some predicaments leading to poverty ought to be removed. These include alcoholism, laziness, imposed fear and jealousy due to superstition, illiteracy, low income, poor shelter, and ignorance among others. To wipe out these predicaments there is a need to teach people to change their behaviour and allow every individual to work for the common good of all in the society. We can choose to avoid interdependence in our human relationships. But as social beings we ought to live in solidarity with others – not in isolation. We are all responsible for the good of everyone in the human family. This is the best way to achieve the communitarian character of human existence where each person works for the good of the community. Working for the good of the community reminds us of the fact that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Hence, it is morally imperative for the Church to dialogue with the world to to have a holistic approach in addressing the issue of poverty.