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By Laura Black in All Sorts

trying to identify why some people stay poor

She’s been living with Lupus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Epstein Barr since the age of 15 in New York State. No?
How about her spoons theory of resilience which she developed at dinner in 2003?
While out to dinner one night with a friend, she began her usual meal-time ritual of taking (copious) medications, and the friend suddenly asked her what it was like to live with so many autoimmune issues.
Like a lot of diners, the restaurant had containers of cutlery on each table. Christine went around the tables and took the spoons from each and brought them back to her friend.
She asked her friend to imagine that the pile of spoons represented the amount of energy she had that day.
As Christine went through the myriad tasks she completed that day, she took a spoon away from the pile for each activity. She took spoon after spoon, until there was only one left. At which point her friend remembered why they were out to dinner and declared that she was hungry.
To which Christine replied that eating would use the last spoon. And there was still the drive home. She asked her friend to choose which activity she wanted to do more.
Christine then explained that on any given day she may wake up with more or fewer spoons depending on the state of her illness; a circumstance beyond her control.
So that is the Spoons Theory of resilience.
Of course it doesn’t just apply to people with auto-immune issues.
It applies to the poor. Factors affecting general spoonage can include: cold or wet weather (heating costs), sudden break down of appliances, tripping in the street and ripping your last good pair of interview pants, sudden ill health, the friction that comes from being over it and living with other people who are over it ... and of course not everyone starts with the same basic spoon allocation. Those with better education, better genes, parents and family who can help out – which are all a kind of inheritance, really – are better off.
Recent research into why people stay poor, has identified that there is a minimum level of asset required to haul oneself out of poverty. Now, this is not income, this is wealth, the background accumulation of (financial) resiliency. Below this level, folks can’t get enough momentum, enough critical mass to reach the kind of escape velocity needed to exit the perpetual cycle of “not enough”.
Poverty, low resilience, these are traps that for those without a good head of steam up before poverty or ill health engulfed them, can’t escape without help.
Which tells us, hopefully, what kind of help works best. More “spoons”. Building up that asset base. Making energy-sapping tasks easier. Escaping poverty is not about more self-reliance. Its about more money. Escaping low resilience is not about “more responsibility’. It’s about making tasks easier either by simplifying or providing assistance or building skills (but that takes another spoon in the short term) or having someone help.
And when we meet someone who looks like their struggling, wondering how many spoons they woke up with that day, may just help us help them.
Laura Black