The Noise of Poverty; Understanding Its Power over Self & Other

December 27, 2012
By

As I transition from the “West” to Uganda—yet again—I am anticipating the different sounds in the lifescape.  Some will welcome me, emoting joy and pleasure. Others will attack me in offensive ways, stirring negativity and frustration.  Others will be processed subconsciously—and yet will nevertheless affect my sense of peace and wellbeing.

Some elements of the life-noise are cultural, of course.  The drumming from a village celebration, for example, or the calls to prayer from the mosque.

The Ugandan affection for music means that it is often heard in the absent-minded song of a passerby, via the crude speakers of a battery-operated device, or seriously booming from a nightclub’s woofers.

Traffic is always robust.  The use of horns is not seen as offensive or bothersome, and so their blasts are heard throughout the day, and even into the night when they are used to summon gatekeepers and guards.

Other sounds are natural.  The number of birdcalls I hear within the space of a minute is fantastic, and I have developed a great love of the sounds of the breeze as it rustles the huge fronds of the banana trees.

While finally other noises emerge from the intersection of lifestyle and need.  A crowing rooster is never more than 20 feet away when I am in Uganda—even in the city—as the need for protein is most affordably met through the keeping of chickens.  The mild weather and absence of large homes means that people are often outdoors—cooking, playing, arguing, and being.  The  lack of  general security means that armed guards are often present, chatting with each other, making their rounds, and listening to handheld radios.

Research shows that the brain’s primary auditory cortex processes most sounds.  Interestingly, though, it is believed that music dances throughout the entire brain.  The cognitive and emotional responses elicited by music are not isolated to a single region—as our spirit’s wholeness makes-meaning.

It is my theory that the noise of poverty is similarly processed.  Our spiritual awareness transcends cognition—as we react, sense, feel, take-note-of, and understand (or misunderstand) our physical and spiritual environments.

You see, in addition to the sounds inventoried above are the thought-sounds that fill our minds and brains, our hearts and souls:

  • Troubling questions about financial need.
  • Worries about loved ones.
  • Nagging suspicions about colleagues and partners.
  • Perplexing dilemmas about purpose—and survival.

In poverty, these thought-sounds are amplified for perhaps obvious reasons.  And the fact that malnutrition and malnourishment are likely also present for the person processing these noises and thought-sounds—well—means that neurological capacities may be additionally taxed.

These factors all contribute to the power of the noise of poverty.

We must harness this awareness as we work towards social change.  Attempts to understand the heart-and-brain space must be wholly integrated into all efforts to understand Other if we are to lend smart-support.

But we must also incorporate these understandings into our own daily lives—into the knowing of Self.

Stop now, and listen. 

  • Make a list of the sounds you hear.  Perhaps the TV in another room.  A ticking clock?  A jet overhead?
  • Now make a list of the thought-sounds you are carrying.  What is that pit in your stomach?  What is the weight in your chest?  What is that delight in your heart?  What is that peace in your spirit?

Calling these into your awareness can only decrease the power held by the noise of financial-and-spiritual poverty—as you make sense of one more day—of your human experience.

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7 Responses to The Noise of Poverty; Understanding Its Power over Self & Other

  1. December 27, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Today the sounds in my house are quieter than my liking after a bustling few days of visitors, including a young grandson, so today I am aware of silence. I thought I would have post-Christmas blues, but I am enjoying the reflection found here. I am looking at projects that need to be started, but mostly, remembering in a year that involved loss, pain, cancer and questions, that God has met us faithfully and not left us.

    Enjoy your time in Uganda, my friend. See you in February.

    • December 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Thank you for this, Lynne. Awareness beyond these human confines brings much weight and much joy. Yes, see you soon.

  2. Marilyn
    December 27, 2012 at 10:35 am

    At this moment can hear the freeway sounds just outside my office; the hum of the fileserver just outside my office door and the sounds of furniture moving in and out of the office as new tennants arrive. It is unusually quiet as staff and clients enjoy the holiday break. In my head I hear the thought sounds of worry, frustration and a bit of anxiety. In my heart I feel tremendous gratitude, however alongside that there is pain over some recent events in my life. All is a part of this current existence on this current physical path.

    • December 27, 2012 at 2:21 pm

      Thanks for these thoughts, Marilyn. I admire how well you function and project such joy from an intersection of pain an gratitude. I hope to see you very soon. –N

  3. SUZY
    December 27, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Sounds and noisy here in Africa are so loud and penetrating the soul constantly. This is something most of us our keenly aware of and learning to process throughout our days. The deeper understanding of thought-noise Is astoundingly important and yet seldom understood. THANK YOU AGAIN for taking time to share your insight and wisdom—I will do the list and already can see it impacting my wellbeing.

  4. Lee
    May 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Just now reading this. Very interesting thoughts. Yesterday was Mother’s day. I spent the day with my wife thinking about when I would call my mother, step-mother and mother-in-law. I was also worried about finances, work, schedules for the following week, returning phone calls and my health. I felt poorly and this, along with my other worries, blocked me from being present and feeling and listening to my family as we all gathered for lunch. I have been blessed financially and have not known the sounds of poverty in my own life. I pray for peace and blessings to those in need. I pray for charity and wisdom to help those in need. More music and less noise.

    • May 13, 2013 at 11:16 am

      Lee, Thank you for this very special reply. I am glad this resonated with you. And you always seem to find a way to hear our voices above the noise. We are grateful. Bless you, –N

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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