Last week, Dr. Ben Carson made news by commenting on the nature of poverty during a radio interview. This was remarkable, not only because of what he said but also for the widespread reaction to his comments.
Carson, who currently serves as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said the following:
“Poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind…A lot of it has to do with what we teach children…You have to instill into that child the mindset of a winner…”
The former 2016 presidential candidate rose from poverty to become the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital at age 33, later earning notoriety for his groundbreaking work separating conjoined twins. If you have not read any of his books, you should! Start with Gifted Hands and then Think Big!
Dr. Carson continued:
“…You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there.
And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you could give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”
Unsurprisingly, many in the media and elsewhere quickly criticized Carson for his “insensitive” and “ignorant” comments. But why would anyone object to this truth?
We’ve all heard certain unnerving truths about ourselves from time to time, right? Maybe it was from a parent, coach, friend or spouse. Even if it hurt at the time, it was still better to hear the truth and then get to work, than to stagnate in self-deception.
Sometimes the real truth feels good. Sometimes it does not. The truth about the truth is that it is sometimes unpleasant, often uncomfortable, and almost always a challenge to hear. Nonetheless, it is still the truth.
While there are numerous factors that contribute to poverty, none is more profound than mindset. Likewise, while there are numerous contributors to success, none is more significant than mindset. This is true economically, relationally and in every other aspect of life.
Economist, Dr. Walter Williams wrote:
“No one can blame a person if he starts out in life poor, because how one starts out is not his fault. If he stays poor, he is to blame because it is his fault. Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science.
First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior.”
Nowhere has this message of self-reliance and personal responsibility been made clearer than in Dennis Kimbro’s book, The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires. Kimbro is a business professor at Atlanta Clark University and a best-selling author of five books. He’s also a master trainer for the prestigious Napoleon Hill Foundation.
In this book, Kimbro argues, based on extensive interviews with self-made millionaires, that wealth is not a function of circumstance, luck, environment or the cards you were dealt.
Instead, wealth is the result of a conscious choice, action, faith, innovation, effort, preparation and discipline. To a larger degree than most of us would like to acknowledge, our circumstances are a reflection of our character, of what we are made of as individuals.
The quality of our outer life of relationships, health, and happiness mirrors the quality of our inner life of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and expectations.
Accepting this truth represents the highest plane of personal responsibility. One of my favorite authors is James Allen and he nails the truth in his classic essay, As A Man Thinketh:
“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.”
Daunting as it may be, understanding this principle means real change is possible for you. It also means that positive change in any area of life is an inside game that must begin with the individual and no one else.
Everybody has handicaps, weaknesses, or other crosses to bear. But a big part of the American experience is learning to overcome our disadvantages, or even transform them into advantages. This requires spiritual growth and the development of our character.
To experience a better life, first become a better person. To enjoy a better marriage, first become a better spouse. To earn more money, first provide more value, service and contribution.
To succeed more, first become more.
As a nation we have failed miserably at alleviating poverty, mainly because we have an infatuation with symptoms but resist facing the source. Despite billions and billions of dollars, little has changed for the better during my lifetime and probably yours as well. Why is this?
If we do not address “state of mind” as a substantive obstacle that needs to be addressed, there will be no serious hope for a solution.
What do you think?