If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. (Leviticus 25:35)
Through the years I have heard people with abundance decrying the laziness of those in poverty. It truly is a lack of empathy. If these blessed people were raised in poverty, I doubt many of them would have been able to drag themselves out of poverty either. Poverty affects the whole person, including the brain.
Tara Gracia Mahewson’s The Atlantic article entitled, “How Poverty Changes the Brain,” addresses the issue of the negative effects of poverty on the brain. Mahewson points out, “When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.” A person in poverty struggles not only with her/his environment and the lack of opportunities, but also, he/she must wrestle with how the brain responds amidst the want.
Sure, each person has moments of stress, where the limbic system is cranking out too many stress messages, but poverty is continual, so too is the constant stress overload. It isn’t laziness, but the brain sending false information to other parts of itself, adding to the emotional toll. It isn’t surprising that too few people are able to function, let alone thrive in such conditions.
Therefore, the idea of class bias is all the more arrogant and hurtful. Mahewson continues, “when brain capacity is used up on these worries and fears, there simply isn’t as much bandwidth for other things.” I hope this is a moment to judge less and appreciate more, the pain of poverty. Rather than ridicule, it is vital to find ways of offering hope and opportunity. Only when stress is reduced, is the individual able to think beyond survival. Today, pray for those of us with abundance, to empathize and appreciate the pain of poverty. Then, we will have the compassion to respond in a positive manner.