It is a badge of honor in American culture to “help the poor.” It is almost expected that businesses and wealthy individuals are sharing their money and resources with “the poor.” All of these efforts are made to help those in underprivileged situations obtain greater opportunities, or at least that is the hope.
But what if the way we talk, what if our language, is contributing to the current state of the poor around the world? What if we need to stop calling poor people “poor people” in order to see them no longer live in poverty?
Language is important and the words we use shape the way people think. As a result, referring to people in environmental, economic, or socially difficult situations as “poor” is doing something.
When we label poor people “poor” we define them by their current situations (many of which are out of their control), as opposed to the potential they carry. At the core of the Gospel is a message of hope, freedom, and growth for all people. The Gospel encourages us to not be defined by our labels or worldly associations but to find our identity in who God says we are.
No matter what walk of life someone was born into, they have potential to create, and potential to bring value to their community. If they do this with less than $1 a day or with $1,000,000 a day, they can bring themselves, their true selves, and add real value to the community around them.
Moreover, referring to those in less fortunate situations as “poor people” widens the very gap we are trying to fight against. To end the battle of extreme poverty in this world, we have to use language showing we are all on the same team. The people living in extreme poverty in Cambodia can learn from those in other countries who have grown to be successful, but those in developed countries can also learn from those in impoverished countries.
Many of us live in different forms of poverty; some of us need food, some need money, and some need hope and joy. We are all on a journey to restore our communities and our own hearts and we need to do this together.
It is important to refer to those around us in a way that communicates life, hope, and potential. If you believe someone has the potential to change their circumstance, talk about it. If we can stop using language that widens the gap between “us” and “them,” we will begin to see those living in underprivileged situations walk with a kick in their step because they know they are not defined by what they do or don’t have.
Let your words be uplifting to those around you. Let your words be encouraging to those around the world, and let your words draw the people of the world together as a community of sons and daughters of God.
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