In our organization, People Prosper International, we deal with the problem of poverty around the world and we show the pathway out. The first step is a change of mental culture. Culture in this sense is our automatic habitual way of thinking and acting.
Each person has a mental culture. Each family has one. Each community has a general mental culture. This taxonomy will help you understand where you are on the continuum of mental culture and it may help you move toward where you want to be.
The middle of the continuum has the two opposite positions of Activity or Passivity. Psychologists call this division of mental thinking the locus of control(i). It means a person is prone to think that what controls his or her life is either the internal forces of their choices and activities or they think their life is controlled by the external forces of what everybody else does or what happens in their world. Those with an internal locus of control tend to get active to change their situations for the better. Those with an external locus of control are prone to go passive and to wait for others or for circumstances to act or change.
We will move along the continuum first to the left. The passive person can go from Passivity to the position of Victimhood. Because they believe their life is controlled by external forces they blame their bad situation on whatever external forces seem to be the most culpable such as a person who hurt them, or their parents, or the government, or a loss, or God, or their bad DNA, or bad luck, or the police, or a political party, or some group of people. Because they have been wronged, they are a victim and that dominates their mental culture. All of us struggle with degrees of passivity and victimhood because we would rather put the responsibility on something or someone else rather than on ourselves to improve our lives. Some politicians and political systems try to leverage the human propensity to victimhood to sell their positions and gain their power.
People who have a Victimhood Mental Culture can easily move another degree to the left and that is to Entitlement. The Entitlement thinker reasons like this: since I have been victimized by someone, or a group of people, or my parents, or my community, or my country, or another country, or the government, or life then someone owes me for that damage they have done. We are not talking here about legitimate victimization such as having your house burglarized or being assaulted. In those cases, the perpetrator does owe the victim retribution. We are talking here about people who through the regular struggles of life move to an Entitlement Mental Culture. This person reasons that they are owed a living and possibly more than that by someone or possibly by everyone.
Victimhood and Entitlement thinkers are ripe for Socialism. They are ready to give up their freedom and everyone else’s to a government which promises to give them everything that will right the wrongs of their Victimhood and fulfill their rights of Entitlement. If you wonder how in the world people can still be fooled by the promises of socialism despite the horrid historic record of socialism and the current horrid record of socialism, it is because it preys on the worst propensities of our human nature toward Passivity, Victimhood and Entitlement.
The left side of this continuum of Mental Cultures is the side where poverty rages. It can also be described as the Culture of Poverty. While there are some poor who live on the right side of this continuum because they are active and working hard, they are still suppressed by systems that reward the left side of this continuum and punish those who are on the right side.
As we move from the middle of the continuum to the right and toward prosperity, the Mental Cultures look like this.
The Activity Mental Culture of course is the mindset of the person who believes they can change their circumstances for the better with positive action. Many people who have an Activity Mental Culture have many potential reasons to feel victimized by people or by life or by God, but they refuse to live in that thinking. They choose to get active to change their lives. They believe that problems yield to effort (ii.) so they look for the best effort they can give. When you find yourself spinning your wheels in pity and depression and passivity, the most powerful thing you can do is to just make yourself get active at something positive. Positive activity breeds more positive activity and more good results.
The next step to the right is the Responsibility Mental Culture. The people who live here not only believe they can change their lives, they believe they have a duty and even a responsibility to do so. Because of their ethics, or their family culture, or their faith or just their choice they believe they should focus on positive action to improve their lives and help their families and help others and benefit society with their work.
The next step to the right is the Ambition Mental Culture. The people who live here move from duty to an inner drive to succeed. They want to achieve something that to them is significant. They live above duty. They go beyond responsibility. They take on more effort, responsibility and risk to achieve more. They may fail, but they will take the risk to succeed. When they do fail, they often try again or try in different way.
The final step to the right is the Enterprise Mental Culture. The word Enterprise comes from Latin root words which mean to literally get in the middle of something and put one’s hands on it. It means to lead yourself to create the best that you can. It is beyond Responsibility and Ambition. It is the Mental Culture to use your God-given abilities and opportunities to create the best results you can, in whatever field where you are called. We often think of Enterprise as the same word as business, but the broader sense of Enterprise is that you put your whole self on a big problem to create the best solution you can.
In the work to end poverty and to create prosperity the first place to begin is the Mental Cultures of individuals, of families, of communities, of nations and of all those who control the socio-political-economic systems around them.
What solves poverty is Cultures of Enterprise and environments of freedom.
What determines so much of our life situations is the place on this continuum where we tend to live.
I challenge you to do a self-assessment of where you tend to live. If you want better, take a step to the right.
i. https://psychologydictionary.org/locus-of-control. Accessed 11.12.2018.
ii. A phrase I heard Bill Clinton use in an interview at Willow Creek Church, circa 2000.