The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth. It’s justice.
This quote comes from Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy. In that book, Stevenson recounts his experiences as a lawyer, working to exonerate people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes. His work to get people off of death row and out of prison who do not belong there is inspiring.
In one of the book’s more memorable chapters, Stevenson offers an especially memorable reflection on how justice is the opposite of poverty. That idea struck a chord. Plant With Purpose aims to reverse poverty in some of the world’s poorest communities. If poverty is what we’re up against, then we’d do ourselves a favor to be better acquainted with its opposite: justice.
At first glance, it seems like a surprising contrast. It’s easy to think of poverty as simply not having enough resources, which would mean its opposite would be a surplus of resources. Wealth. But poverty is not that simple.
Plant With Purpose doesn’t just look at poverty as a measurement of income. Instead it uses a multidimensional index to measure things like the time it takes someone to get clean water, or whether or not girls are in school. Poverty is a nuanced condition that isn’t just a lack of things, its the state of being unable to live abundantly, as God intended.
The opposite of poverty, then, is equally nuanced. Justice. Being able to live harmoniously with all creation, taking care of each other.
The poor are the most impacted by injustice.
It’s hard to read Just Mercy without gaining an understanding that justice isn’t always evenly distributed in our world. In Alabama and Georgia, where Stevenson spent most of his career, the poor, as well as African-Americans are the most likely to face wrongful incrimination by a wide margin. These are the most vulnerable to injustice.
The same trend is true from a global perspective. Those who face the most severe injustices are often from the poorest parts of the poorest countries. These villages are mostly concentrated in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Issues like human trafficking prey on populations that have become so desperate for new sources of income and economic opportunity.
Even environmental issues see this dynamic play out. Those from wealthier areas are able to cope with environmental challenges for much longer. Climate controlled buildings, food security, and a disconnect from nature allow members of highly developed nations to be much more out of touch with environmental crises compared to subsistence farmers in developing nations. The result is environmental injustice that is not evenly felt.
We can connect to each other through vulnerability.
Stevenson suggests getting back in touch with our own vulnerability. Seeing his own brokenness reflected in one of his clients led to this epiphany.
Every human has concerns and fears over things beyond our control. Considering our own vulnerability will allow us to better connect with others around the world who face much more severe circumstances.
The desire to provide your children with a better future clashes with the uncertainty that comes with health concerns. It contrasts with the challenge of doing the same thing without seeing new results, or the struggles of grief and doubt. These are familiar to the communities Plant With Purpose works. They also describe common struggles in more wealthy parts of the world. When we connect to others through these uncomfortable parts of our lives, we gain a strong sense of empathy. This is a critical step in combating environmental injustice.
Plant With Purpose works to empower rural communities through environmental restoration, spiritual renewal, and economic opportunities. The people who make this possible are our Purpose Partners, a community that contributes $22 a month towards helping these communities. Learn how you can be a part of the empowerment process!