Weltanschauung is a German word that can’t be accurately translated into English. Roughly it means, “view of the world.”

It is a person’s mainly unconscious expectations of how the world is.

My mother’s view was, “In good times or bad, disaster is about to strike. May God protect me.” A friend’s view is, “I’m generally optimistic, but …” Another friend’s is, “Life’s an adventure. Let’s get to it.”

Mine is, “Life is great, but I dream about how much better it can be.”

Every one of us has one.

Your weltanschauung is how you perceive the world, what you expect from it, what you owe it and how it conditions your day-to-day life. It has a close relationship with how your culture affects the way you live. The culture in which you live (the rich really are different) channels your behavior in very specific ways.

My topic is poverty. Back in the 1960s, behavioral theorists wrote about a culture of poverty. Life below the poverty line has specific characteristics that produce a fairly consistent weltanschauung among the people who share it. That means that they have much in common that shapes their communities.

Why don’t some residents of slum houses make repairs when their landlords don’t. Why? Why do so many poor people give up looking for work when they have looked to no avail for months? Why?

Their shared weltanschauung is, “You can’t fight city hall. There’s no use …”

Even when so many do try, their experience-based attitudes are so negative that they defeat themselves. There is no way to characterize poor people with any accuracy. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a culture of poverty that acts to resist change no matter the “benefits” the poor receive.

Despite a national “War against poverty,” poverty remains a stagnated social tragedy.

It is a misunderstanding to say, “I understand about the culture of poverty. It means that it’s their own fault and nothing will help unless they get over it.” The culture of poverty was created by a culture of plenty where a remorseless capitalism has used workers who, when no longer needed, are thrown away. It is the culture of plenty that needs to change before the effects of its selfishness and neglect can be removed from the backs of the poor.

With that clearly understood, the way forward requires that any anti-poverty program recognize the damage that poverty has done to the spirit of the poor and take steps to foster expectations of hope, optimism and a flourishing of energy.

Change should be a national effort, but community based. It is essential that poor people be intimately involved in the development of any anti-poverty program. They should be in leadership positions as often as possible in any stage of development. It is a delicate dance with members of the culture of plenty in the mix. The poor need to begin to experience a sense of control over their own lives.

In the culture of plenty, most people’s identity includes some measure of competence to manage their own lives. That sense of competence is essential to “making it” in a post-industrial economy. The experience of having a major part in designing new programs will help to develop a competency-based leadership in poor communities.

Infrastructure jobs will provide opportunity, as will jobs in new industries. Renewable energy jobs are examples.

Completely new jobs need to be discovered based upon unmet needs.

For example, indoor farming is spreading nationally in cities, often in disused factory buildings. The buildings need rehabilitation, structures for farming operations need to be developed, crops need to be planted, cared for, picked, packaged and sold to local retailers.

Indoor farming is practical. It is honest, meaningful work in close-by neighborhoods, offering living wages where worker-pride is life-enhancing. Unmet needs or variations in how to meet needs are wonderful sources of work.

People in poverty are still people, sharing human needs with all of us. With opportunities for work, optimism and dignity, they can share with us the rewards and responsibilities of a fair society. The unquestionable truth is that if poverty were reduced to an absolute minimum, the entire country would benefit.

It is doable and it behooves us all together to get it done, together.

Hubert Kauffman is a clinical psychologist who writes about political issues. He lives in Oxford.


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