040: Going Upstream
Listen Here and Now for Going Upstream
Join us as we share thoughts about changing how we look at poverty in order to provide the appropriate solutions for the root causes of poverty.
Quotable of the Week
“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” — Nelson Mandela
Highlights from the Episode
We’re in the midst of a series about poverty.
Today’s topic is a concept that we first learned from a really wise man named Tri Robinson back in 2009. We like to refer to it as “The River.” It’s something that we’ve adapted overtime and made it our own. Let’s jump right in.
Imagine you have a river and the river has many tributaries or streams that feed into it. The river that we’re going to start looking at represents everything that’s wrong in the world. These are the things that might depress you and make you angry. They aren’t fun to think about or dwell on but they are reality. The suffering in the world is a great place to start in order to find your business idea and figure out which form of suffering you can help alleviate through your business activity… maybe the suffering is something you or someone you love has experienced as well. These can be hard to think about but it’s where we must start.
At the head of the river we see a lack of meaning. People not knowing the reason for their being alive or the purpose and meaning behind their lives. For those with a lack of meaning, everything might seem fine but there’s an inner emptiness. No matter how much money they make, those with a lack of meaning work just for the money. There’s no passion or purpose behind their work. A lack of meaning can lead to struggles with depression and addiction. Here are some facts:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that by 2020, mental health and substance use disorders will be a major cause of disability worldwide surpassing physical illness.
- The societal cost of substance abuse problems is approximately $511 billion.
- A 2015 study suggests that finding a higher meaning should be the highest priority for programs aiding people who struggle with addiction – higher even than forming secure relationships.
We also have a discrimination stream. People are not given the rights inherent to all human beings. Individuals and groups are treated differently because of their nation of origin, location, language, religion, ethnicity, or any other status.
Another stream to the River is educational inequalities. Adults and their children lack access to quality education.
Then there is poor health & disease. This includes lack of access to quality health care and exposure to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and so forth.
Next is environmental decline. This includes general environmental issues that affect the whole planet and localized ones like famine, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, and many more disasters.
Then we have hunger. People lack access to healthy food or are unable to grow or purchase healthy food.
Finally, we have leadership corruption. We know this one in Illinois very well but it exists all around the world in government and in business.
The Sea of Poverty
All of these streams gather together and pour into a sea. I call this sea at the end the Sea of Poverty. Each one of the items we went through is a contributing factor to poverty. For people who live in poverty, they experience most if not all of these issues.
You’ll notice there are houses on the banks of the sea. These represent nonprofits. Along the shores of the Sea of Poverty is where nonprofits usually set up. From there they rescue the dead bodies out of the water and administer emergency services to bring the people drowning in poverty back to life.
One really unique thing about this River is that you can imagine it on many different scales. This River runs through your neighborhood, your state, your nation… This River represents the entire world.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this River doesn’t just represent monetary poverty. You and I both know the emotional, mental, spiritual, and relational poverty that comes from many of these streams. Even if you live in a monetarily rich neighborhood, you aren’t totally free of this River. At least 1 but probably many of the tributaries can be seen if you look hard enough at millionaire and billionaire communities.
Cleaning up the River
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can clean up the pollution in these streams. We could go to the sources of the streams and remove the pollution. Real, lasting change happens upstream.
What would it look like to have meaning? Where everyone knows his or her purpose and is fulfilling it?
What would it look like to have equal human rights? Where no one is discriminated against. Instead, their differences are celebrated as part of what makes humankind as a whole great.
What would it look like if everyone had a great education? What if everyone has good health and was free of disease? … the planet was thriving? … everyone could provide for themselves 3 square meals a day? … every leader was full of integrity?
You see that the River runs pure and blue.
Now stop and think for a minute. What would the Sea be called then? If it’s the Sea of Poverty with all that pollution, what would it be called with completely clear, pure water?
When I’ve asked people this question, they have come up with some very unique answers. I encourage you to share yours in the comments below. For now, I’ll fill in “enough.” That’s what I’d called this Sea. The Sea of Enough.
The whole idea here is “going upstream.” In addition to rescuing people from the Sea of Poverty, we need to go to the root causes of that poverty so that fewer and fewer people end up needing rescue.
Here’s an action step: Journal your responses to the following questions.
- Which tributary of the River appeals to you most? What polluted stream makes you the angriest? Which clear steam would give you the most hope? Why do you think this is true?
- Where do you see the impact of this River around you? Who do you know that suffers from one or more of the polluted streams? What would be needed to make their stream(s) clear and clean?
- Where do you see the impact of this River around the world? What about other communities’ stories captivate you most? Why do you think this is so?
We’ll share more practical action steps in our episode in 2 weeks – Episode 042.
Brandon’s Response to the Above Questions
- Lack of meaning a purpose. Oftentimes we want meaning. I recently listened to a Ted talk by Elizabeth White. I strongly recommend it. Elizabeth is this 50 year old women who graduated from Harvard. She tells her story about how she, who on outward appearance looks successful, is so near poverty. She shares the reality that so many of us face. It wasn’t just one thing from the river of poverty that got her there. It was a number of things and she is opening the dialogue to share her own retirement crisis.
- I see it all around us. Often people don’t want to acknowledge they are in a place so close to poverty. Like Elizabeth White, they want to keep up appearances. That’s why we moved into this industry to go upstream to help people who want to live “small enough” as Elizabeth shares. To help them not be a statistic and enter poverty as they become seniors.
- I see it all over. In our economy, we buy stuff from other places all the time but we want free and cheap. It’s that mindset that has gotten us into this circumstance in the first place.
Amanda’s Response to the Above Questions
- Lack of meaning because I believe with a sense of purpose or destiny people can surprise themselves with what they are able to accomplish – whether to raise up their own lives or the lives of others. This can be a deep, spiritual sort of thing or it can be as simple as having a sense of purpose or destiny but feeling it’s utterly impossible because you don’t have the resources to accomplish it. That’s why I am now a financial and business coach. I love helping people who have some sort of sense of purpose figure out a path forward to making it happen.
- I see this River all over the place. We need a lot more people and organizations going upstream. See last week’s podcast for how to do this.
- Everyone is talking about the Thailand cave rescue, which thankfully has had tremendous results. I can’t help but thinking of all the people around the world who are so isolated that they feel like they live in a cave 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Maybe because they are bullied or because they suffer from a disability or whatever the reason, they feel no one cares or loves them. This breaks my heart.
From here we go on a little rant about advertising, marketing, and scary sales tactics. We can feel bullied by these and not want to look deeper at our true feelings and financial situation.