Monday, June 23, 2008

Beyond physical poverty: Pay attention and treat us with respect

Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments observed that the reason poverty causes pain is not just because it deprives them physically, but it is associated with unfavourable regard:
'The poor man … is ashamed of his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the sight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow–feeling with the misery and distress which he suffers. He is mortified upon both accounts; for though to be overlooked, and to be disapproved of, are things entirely different, yet as obscurity covers us from the daylight of honour and approbation, to feel that we are taken no notice of, necessarily damps the most agreeable hope, and disappoints the most ardent desire, of human nature. The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, and when in the midst of a crowd is in the same obscurity as if shut up in his own hovel.'

Don Arthur, from Club Troppo, wrote in his article What if Adam Smith was right about poverty?:
Well-being isn’t just about our relationship with things, it’s also about our relationships with each other. Poverty hurts, not just because it can leave you feeling hungry, cold and sick, but because it can also leave you feeling ignored, excluded and ashamed. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments Adam Smith argued that all of us want others to pay attention to us and treat us with respect.

Human beings want to belong to something.  This desire for belonging may become so strong that it can easily be used by skilled manipulators for their own gains.  
That is why decent work is so much more then an income - for many it is often the only license to earn attention and respect.

Picture Adam Smith: Wikipedia.

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