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

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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