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TEEN ADVICE: How empathy and connections come from understanding poverty

Opinion/Resources/Teen Perspective 
By Teen Opinion Contributor Maggie Verdught

Photo: Deposit

Last summer, my youth group held a service week that I participated in. I was part of a team, and in many ways, it was really a hometown mission trip. It was a great experience. We all learned a lot, but the biggest takeaway for me was what I learned about poverty.

It’s a heavy, fascinating topic that I want to cover in this blog post. I want to do so mainly because it made me realize more about the way I view and treat others. Also, as I learned more about poverty and how it works, I began to understand that this was more prevalent in my state and community than I had previously thought. Hopefully this insight helps you understand poverty and connect with others more, too!

What are cycles of poverty?

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines poverty itself as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” You are probably aware that this exists, especially in bigger cities where more homelessness and violence is present. This is because of a larger, more complex reason involving cycles of poverty, which are what keeps it all going. Here is a basic scenario: a small family with two young children are trying to make ends meet. The father has been struggling emotionally and financially, and may resort to drugs to numb his pain from time to time. Meanwhile, the mother is also working a job to help out, which means her young kids need childcare. Childcare is a big issue right now in the United States. It is hard to come by for many lower income families, who can’t afford the price of quality child care consistently. (I learned a lot about this during my service week!) So, there are a few options. The mother could start staying home, but that means less income. The other option is that the family could search for a lower-quality option of childcare. One of the key things I learned about cycles of poverty is that there are often several bad options that a mother, father, or family has to choose from. It’s not like there are any great options to choose from; no, these are difficult decisions to make with consequences for all of them. 

Let’s get back to the scenario. The children get lower-quality childcare, and the mother keeps working. The kids grow up in a household of tension and instability for the most part. They live in an apartment with some other families whose parents have not taught them many moral values, because they are also unstable households. The kids learn and pick up on negative, harmful habits and ways from the other kids. This causes violence in many cases. I’ll pause here. You probably see the main picture, right? Poverty can be generational, and often is. The reason is because of the environment one grows up in. You become what you are around, for better or worse.

If those kids do not grow up around adults that act like adults and provide for them well and teach moral values, then those kids will end up like their parents! That’s the way it is. This is why poverty and violence are so intertwined and connected. Poverty often leads to violence. There are many reasons for this, but one significant reason being the lack of fathers and good examples. Like I mentioned before, children need to grow up in stable homes with two parents if possible, and general positive influences. In a community where many people live in poverty, many fathers leave their families and pursue worldly things instead. 

This is not how God created it to be, as we know. The family reflects God Himself; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect union. The sad thing is that poverty, and cycles of poverty, are happening all around us! I live in a small city in the Midwest. There is poverty happening where I live! And right across the river is another small city, a bit bigger than ours, that has even greater amounts of poverty and violence there. This is not just a Chicago, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, or big-city problem in the U.S. This is happening here and near us, and we are called to love others and serve them. There are so many ways that you can reach out and be a blessing to someone’s life.

Empathy and connections

Knowing these things about poverty, we can have greater empathy and deeper connections with the people around us. When we seek to understand, and then to serve, an impact is made. Think before you speak (I know that’s hard for me to do sometimes!), and aim to view others how Jesus would. I am a quick-to-judge kind of person. I often form opinions about others without having even talked to them! But that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus interacted with all sorts of people, from Pharisees to tax collectors, and he treated all of them graciously and kindly. He genuinely cared about people, and when he called people out on their sin, he actually had the authority to do so, of course! Who am I to judge others? Matthew 7:1-3 says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

My point here is that instead of being a judge, we should be a person seeking to understand, encourage, love and help. Before thinking to yourself, That lady looks like she has no idea what she’s doing, she is letting her child ____, and I would never do that!  You should probably check yourself and think through it, logically. Everyone’s background is different, and the things you do may be different from how someone else might do it. Usually, people are well-meaning and just doing the best they can. 

With that in mind, I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and grown in your understanding of poverty– and how you can cultivate more empathy and connections because of it. Have a lovely weekend!






The opinions in this article are specific to its author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the entire Counter Culture Mom team. 



Maggie VerDught is a high school student who enjoys learning about culture, news, and politics.

She is passionate about sharing the truth, especially with her generation. Maggie loves to run, read, and write poetry in her spare time.

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