Taking Responsibility for your Life

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I am not a morning person. While my faith may tell me that with the rising of the sun comes a day filled with exciting possibilities, my daily response is closer to “Is it the weekend yet?” My waking moments are often consumed with my mental checklist, pouring over the tasks of the day ahead. I’ve learned that starting the day with prayer relieves my anxiety, yet it creeps back throughout a day of work and family concerns.

So the insights presented in a recent article by Ezra Klein really hit me where I live. Klein quotes the findings of poverty researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo from their book Poor Economics, where they “try to explain why the poor around the world so often make decisions that befuddle the rich. Their answer, in part, is this: The poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by. They’re not dumber or lazier or more interested in being dependent on the government. They’re just cognitively exhausted.”  Klein goes on to discuss the concept of “decision fatigue,” which shows that “the more we need to worry about in a day, the harder we have to work to make good decisions.”

“Most of us do not have to worry where our next meal will come from,” write the authors of Poor Economics. “We rarely need to draw upon our limited endowment of self-control and decisiveness, while the poor are constantly being required to do so.” Klein also cites an online post by economist Jed Friedman: “The repeated trade-offs confronting the poor in daily decision making — i.e. ‘should I purchase a bit more food or a bit more fertilizer?’ — occupy cognitive resources that would instead lay fallow for the wealthy when confronted with the same decision. The rich can afford both a bit more food and a bit more fertilizer, no decision is necessary.” Thus, Klein concludes: “The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier…. It’s really, really hard to be poor. That’s because the poorer you are, the more personal responsibility you have to take.”

These insights come at a critical time in our political discourse and for me personally. My esteem for people who are poor and in poverty grows as I reflect on them, for I know firsthand the challenges of tending to the tasks of the day. Yet, Klein’s words and research cast a different and important light on my perception of what a hard day’s work really entails. Thus, our service through IVC is so critically important in honoring and sustaining the poor as they carry on from day to day. My mornings are a little brighter now, and I hope I pass that light on to others.


Maria Rodgers O’Rourke, the former IVC – St. Louis regional director, has served in church ministry for over 20 years on the national, regional and local levels in communications, adult spirituality, family life and retreat direction.

6 Responses to “Taking Responsibility for your Life”

  1. Si Smith

    Thanks, Maria! Right on! One of things I’ve learned from various ministries here and abroad is that “poor” means, quite simply, no options. And you hit the nail on the head with your characterizing IVC work as “honoring and sustaining the poor.” That’s very different from pitying them and it approaches Jesus’ attitude of compassion. Si Smith sj

    • Maria

      Thank you, Si. The commitment of time and attention our volunteers make to those they serve takes the relationships to a whole new dimension. So wonderful to witness and experience!

  2. Kathy

    “Walk a mile in my shoes.” For so many people being poor is not their personal experience. While not being wealthy may also not be in their life experience either, somehow it’s much more doable to slip into the designer booties than the thrift shop version. ” The poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by. They’re not dumber or lazier or more interested in being dependent on the government. They’re just cognitively exhausted”. These words spoke loud and clear to me.
    I’ve witnessed that up close and personal for many years now because I have a daughter who by simply marrying the wrong guy ended up being what Romney would classify as a taker, not responsible for her own life. She is divorced single mother of three, out of work for three years now, desperately searching for sustainable income to support her family. She is college educated and gone for addtional training and schooling and still no job on the immediate horizon. I have seen her “cognitively exhaustion”. She could be the poster person for that syndrome if we chose to identify it. Too many people live at the edge today. Unable to provide the necessities of daily living in this commercial, shallow, consumer culture that America has become. My daughter and her children are safe physically because they have an extended family able to help but that does nothing to aleviate her broken spirit because she cannot provide for her boys independently and the sorry assistance that the government offers is too little and usually late.
    Romney thinks that she doesn’t matter, along with the throngs of folks in her situation. He wants the government to do less. Shame on him. Ryan is a Catholic. He doesn’t support social justice as a premise of Jesus teaching. He’s not even catholic with a small c. Shame on him. Obahma is trying. Maybe four more years with real bipartisan effort could make the difference for my daughter and the throngs of folks wearing similar shoes. We all need to take a small stroll in different footware if only in our imagination.

    • Maria

      Wow, Kathy, what a story! I’m sure your faith sustains you and your family in this all too common circumstance.

  3. Christine Curran

    Thanks for your thoughtful reflection, Maria. There’s a lot of insight there.

  4. Maria

    Thanks, Christine. Lots to ponder, for sure! Maybe not too early in the morning, though, for me!


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