I grew up in a family that embraces southern hospitality and whenever people made impromptu visits to our home, inevitably my mother would be in the kitchen cooking, and she always asked the guests, “Are you hungry?”
Merriam-Webster defines hunger as a strong desire, a desire for something or to do something. When you’re hungry, nothing else seems to matter. You’ll do anything to ease the pangs of emptiness and fill the void inside of you. Hunger takes on a life of its own and its effects can be dangerous. So, my mother would always invite our guests to the table, redistribute the portions she prepared, and meet the needs of those who entered. My mother created an environment that kept hunger at bay.
I have come to believe that the poverty that plagues the world and keeps millions of people hungry, is an unwillingness of the haves to make space at the table and redistribute their portions so that the needs of all can be met. According to Thinkprogress.org, Americans throw away 31 million tons of food every year. There are enough resources to alleviate hunger and rid the world of poverty, or so I thought before yesterday.
I contend that there is another perpetual emptiness that plagues our world for which there is no easy remedy. Yesterday during the Give1Project Summit, John from the United Kingdom raised the question, “How do we overcome the chronic poverty of aspiration?” What strategy can be implemented to fill lives that are empty of dreams rather than stomachs that are empty of food? Who is inviting the impoverished to the dreamers’ table and filling their bellies with hope for the future?
This hunger is not an indication that they lack the capacity to pursue. Anyone who can mark a date on a calendar, stand in line for hours on end, and spend grocery money on ridiculously expensive sneakers has the capacity of pursuit.
But the end of that pursuit is a deeper dive down the slope of consumption and leads to the further loss of resources and a cycle of perpetual consumerism.
People who live in the poverty of aspiration are hungry for a reason to exist, void of drive, and living life by default. But nobody can sit you down at a table and offer you a dream. So, what is the answer? How can we inspire people to dream?
The easiest way to introduce a new behavior is to model that behavior. If you want someone to understand a new system or process, demonstrate it. In order to inspire people to dream, we must dream in front of them. Let them see us set goals, work hard to attain them, and demonstrate gratitude and appreciation for our accomplishments. Mentoring by modeling.
We cannot continue to strive in small circles of privilege, isolating ourselves and our processes from the people who need most to see how it is done. We must invite the aspiration impoverished to the table and share with them our stories, our reasons for living, until they develop their own appetite for dreaming and taste for success.
And how will you know when it’s working? Last weekend, my 12-year-old niece said to me, “Auntie, you’re always traveling. Take me with you to Africa.”
“Ahhh young grasshopper. I think you are beginning to dream. Follow me.”