Cultures of Scarcity

Narcissism, you would think we are surrounded by it, that every person is self absorbed:politicians, movie stars, young people, athletes, police, parents, CEOs, and the list could go on and on, it is ‘those people’ who are self absorbed, but it is rarely me.  “If only we could cut these people down to size, put them in their right place, make them realize that they need to work for a living” might be some people’s response to those people they dub as narcissists, but the reality is that narcissism is an outgrowth of shame.  It is the fear of being ordinary, of not being noticed or being loveable, belonging, being cool. Often it grows from trying to cultivate a sense of purpose in what may seem to be the hollowness in their lives.

We live with scarcity, the never enough problem. Fill in the blank never _________enough:

  • Never good enough
  • Never perfect enough
  • Never thin enough
  • Never powerful enough
  • Never successful enough
  • Never smart enough
  • Never certain enough
  • Never safe enough
  • Never extraordinary enough (this list comes from Brown’s Daring Greatly, 24)

We get scarcity because we live in a world where we believe it and live it. And scarcity strives in a culture where you are hyper aware of what you lack, now the flip side is that scarcity can blind you to what you have. How big of a paycheck is big enough, how much money do you really need, and yet we live in a culture where we are measured by impossible standards and we have visions of perfection put before our eyes-visions of what we should have, what our family should be, how our marriages should be, how we should look and the list goes on and on.  “Scarcity doesn’t take hold in a culture overnight. But the feeling of scarcity does thrive in a shame-prone cultures that are deeply steeped in comparison and fractured by disengagement” (Brown, 26) Wow, we eat, breathe and drink comparison-we measure ourselves against others and alienation or disengagement is one of the words that when you ask people about how they feel that often sums up there experience. We have much greater access to what is going on in the world, but that engagement often focuses heavily on the negative…school shootings, corporate scandals, wars, natural disasters, famines, unemployment-and even when we are not directly involved we feel that these events “out there” are stealing our sense of security “here.”

There are three components to a culture of scarcity:

  1. Shame: is fear of ridicule and belittling used to manage people and/or keep people in line? Is self worth tied to achievement, productivity or compliance? Are blaming and finger pointing norms? Are name calling and finger pointing rampant? What about favoritism? Is perfectionism an issue?
  2. Comparison: Healthy competition is beneficial, but is there constant overt or covert comparing and ranking? Has creativity been suffocated? Are people held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions? Is there an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used as measurement of everyone else’s worth?
  3. Disengagement: Are people afraid to take risks and try new things? Is it easier to stay quiet than to share stories, experiences, and ideas? Does it feel as if no one is really paying attention and listening? Is everyone struggling to be seen and heard? (Brown,27)

Scarcity is not cured by abundance. There are many people who are convinced that there is never enough money, never enough time, never enough sleep, never enough health, they will never be beautiful enough or smart enough or popular enough. If you live from a perspective of scarcity it is never enough, no matter what abundance you have. The opposite of scarcity is enough, it is a different way of looking at the world. Scarcity breeds shame and fear, but enough allows you to take the risks involved with being vulnerable.  It is not easy to believe you have enough in a culture that thrives on scarcity, just like it is not easy to remain calm when everyone else may seem anxious.

I think we all seek a feeling of being worthy and nobody wants to live a life based on fear. Courage involves risk and perhaps the greatest risk is vulnerability.

Note: I’m doing this because I am trying to internalize some of what I have learned from Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly which is a phenomenal book and this is a part of a series of posts that pull very heavily from that work.

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