The ART of Hope

Submitted by dcook on March 26, 2012 - 1:16pm
Nurturing the Abundant City

Over the past few weeks I have offered some thoughts on the nature of poverty. In my experience, poverty, however defined, is characterized by three things: scarcity, vulnerability and fear. Scarcity is not only of money, but also of time and relationships. Vulnerability encompasses more than financial vulnerability, but also physical, mental and spiritual vulnerability. And fear emerges as a result of such scarcity and vulnerability, but runs deeper than the base fear of not having enough. Such fear is also exuded in the fear of others knowing I don’t have enough, or in the fear of the others who contribute to our fears of scarcity and vulnerability.

And, I have attempted to argue, such scarcity, vulnerability and fear apply to each of us on whatever side of some arbitrary poverty line we inhabit. So this deeper poverty touches each of us as individuals, as families and as communities. If indeed we are bound by this condition of scarcity, vulnerability, and fear, what might an alternative look like? Perhaps we might imagine its opposite: a parallel world of Abundance, Resilience, and Trust.

The idea of Abundance is based on the belief that, as a society, we have enough resources to adequately support the inclusion of everyone in the economic, social and political life of our community. Where there is scarcity, it results not from the lack of resources, but from our inability to use the resources we have effectively. Building abundance as a community requires us to identify and effectively harness our assets, as well as to reflect on our priorities and values as individuals and as a community. Through this process we strive to better utilize our existing assets by removing the barriers to their use, using them in a different way, or aligning different assets together to enhance their impact. We may also seek to enhance our existing assets or create new ones where needed.

Resilience is all about our ability to “cope and thrive in the presence of obstacles, challenges and continual change.”Our ability to cope and thrive applies to us as individuals, families, institutions and communities. As a strategy for poverty reduction, building resilience requires us to reduce the risk factors that contribute to poverty and strengthen protective factors that can help keep, or move people out, of poverty. Building resilience works to prevent poverty by strengthening the capacities of those at risk of falling into poverty, building the capacities of those who find themselves intermittently poor to limit their period of poverty; and building the capacities of those who are persistently poor. Resilience can also be a focus for our institutions and communities that provide social and financial supports for people. Like people, they also require strengths and resources to ensure their sustainability and their effectiveness in supporting individuals and families through times of crisis, change or long-term vulnerability.

And, finally, Trust seeks to overcome our notions of poverty that are weighted down by historical understandings which have consistently sought to assign blame. In this environment, we pit individuals, sectors, institutions and neighbours against each other when cooperation is what is really required to address such a complex problem. The ability to work together to address complex problems requires a certain level of “social cohesion”. Trust is a critical factor for social cohesion and essential for collective action to address complex social issues like poverty.

Rather than assigning blame, trust works on the belief that we are all acting from the best of intentions, and all seek the same goal: an end to poverty. Trust also requires a reciprocity in relationships that promotes meaningful participation in society. Yet, those who live in poverty are predominantly those with the least influence, the least voice, the least power, lacking the ability to influence the decisions that most closely affect them. Where such inequality exists in relationships, trust is also likely to be absent. Restoring trust will require the active participation of people who have been marginalized, providing them with a meaningful voice in decisions and society generally.

If we are to restore trust in our community as a basis for collective action to address poverty, we must think about poverty in a different way. Moving beyond models of charity and 19th century conceptions of the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, it may be helpful to think about poverty instead as an issue of rights. Canada is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant of Economic, Cultural and Social Rights []. This Covenant is based on the understanding that political and democratic rights require that economic, cultural and social rights are also met. Such rights include the right to work, fair wages, a decent living, union membership, social security, adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.

And, this brings us finally to Hope. Hope is the greatest resource. Those with hope can endure almost anything, while the lack of hope is the greatest poverty of all. By nurturing Abundance, Resilience and Trust (ART), we build hope for our community and those struggling in poverty. The ”ART" of Hope believes that improving our well-being is indeed an art, not a science. While it is based on sound principles, it requires our creativity and our passion, as well as our intellect. We encourage you to engage your creativity, intellect and passion to build hope for a new society where each of us experiences Abundance, Resilience and Trust in every aspect of our lives.

The Region of Waterloo (2010). Building Resilient Communities: A Literature Review and Demographic Overview. Waterloo: Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Social Services Department.*

The ART of Hope

Thank you for such a beautifully framed article.