Poor Talk; a very important issue for us to consider because of the present economic condition of our country and of the world. Many of you are unemployed or working ‘below your skill level,” and many of you have just graduated and are facing a job market that is less than friendly. Others are retired or facing retirement with shrinking resources and facing the prospect of getting a part-time job or of working longer before you can think of retirement. It is a perfect storm for Poor Talk; blaming those Greeks, Spaniards, and Italians for not getting their economic act together and bringing down the value of my Facebook stock; angry at those in the futures market who artificially drive up oil prices to fill their pockets while I struggle to fill my gas tank every week; disgust with the 1% who are so filthy rich while we in the Middle Class are sacrificing our slice of the American Dream.
Some very significant research was done by Psychologists Thomas Ludwig and David Myers during the economic crisis of the late 1970’s when Jimmy Carter was president. Some of you may remember the Iran Hostage issue and the oil crisis with long gas lines and the distribution of gas based upon odd or even license plate numbers. The research was written up in a magazine called the Saturday Review and the article was called Poor Talk. It presented several principles that helped to explain the emotions that accompany economic fluctuations as well as why we are rarely content with what we have, even in good times.
The first principle is the adaptation-level phenomenon. “The basic point is that success and failure, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are relative to our prior experience. We use our past to calibrate our present experience and to form expectations for the future.”
I remember experiencing this when I was a paper boy. This was back when newspapers were .25 and I was earning a grand total of $4 or $5 a week. To me that was huge- I felt wealthy. Then Christmas came, the Nirvana of very paper boy or girl, and I started getting tips. I remember that my income shot up to about $15 for a few weeks and I re-calibrated my expectations; it became the new normal. Then after Christmas, when I went back to making 4-5 stinking bucks a week, I wanted to quit.
The second insight from this psychological research is the relative-deprivation principle. “Whereas the adaptation-level phenomenon is rooted in changes in our own experience across time, the relative—deprivation principle is based primarily on comparison with other people.” And we usually compare ourselves with those who are better off than we are to the extent that we can actually feel poor if we do not have what they have. Plato was right when he said, “Poverty consists not in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed.” Ouch!
A third principle is one of the self-orientation mentality; “the fact that it is a very real human tendency to view oneself as better and more deserving than others.” One of the dangers that those in Christian ministry fall into is not only comparing what we make with those in the secular world, but also feeling that we deserve more than the average person because of the sacrifices we make for the Lord. We feel deprived not on the basis of what we have but on the basis of comparison with what others have. And do you know what? Once again, we usually compare ourselves with those who are doing better than we are and not the other way around. You can see how this can blind us to the very real need of the real poor.
Next week…what we can do to overcome Poor Talk?