“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve”. That is one of the more famous quotes by Napoleon Hill that individuals from all walks of life have used in promoting the power of positive thinking.
Ben Carson recently got himself in trouble when he made the statement that “poverty is a state of mind”. There were millions of people who immediately felt the need to berate him and say he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Here’s the problem. Overall, Ben was right!
“there but for the grace of God, go I”
One key that many people have left out of Carson’s statement is the comment, “if everybody had a mother like mine”. That statement is key to understanding his statement objectively. With this statement, Carson is acknowledging that he had someone in his life that helped guide him and push him into a success filled mindset. This quote about his mother, alludes to the fact that he recognizes success does not happen in a vacuum. Given the reference to his mother, it is also fair to assume, he is 100% crediting his mother for the positive mindset he believes he has. If one assumes my last statement is true, then it is also fair to assume he recognizes that, “there but for the grace of God, go I” and was therefore taught and blessed to be able to think in this positive way.
While there may be some general issues surrounding his statement, in my opinion, the issue is not truly Carson’s statement, it’s that his statement was taken out of context.
Americans spend countless dollars on self-help seminars and books and any good parent encourages their children to follow their dreams and think big. One issue with Ben’s statement isn’t that it was false, the issue is that it was too general. In our opinion based society, most generalizations tend to get people riled up.
There is a statistic that is often used which states, most lottery winners file for bankruptcy within three to five years of winning a large prize. Let’s also remember the high number of professional athletes that are broke within a few years of leaving whichever league they play for. I can probably guess what you are thinking. That wouldn’t be me! For some of us that may be accurate but how many people would actually treat the lottery “win” or the financial windfall of an athlete, as an opportunity to create independent wealth instead of using it as a vehicle to acquire “stuff”. Poverty thinking in relation to money is a spend first mentality. Successful thinking is rooted in the understanding that sacrifice is a main ingredient to true poverty elimination.
Think about this scenario for a moment.
The United States government could single-handedly albeit temporarily “end” poverty in this country. The operative word being “temporarily”. How? Here’s the hypothetical. They could set up a fund that is delivered by the IRS to every American taxpayer. The one time amount would be 500,000 dollars to anyone who is 18 or older and who received a W-2 or filed a 1099 within the last 5 years. While I acknowledge there are financial holes in my example, just go with the premise for now.
On certain levels it’s an easy argument to validate because if we can budget billions of dollars on a yearly basis for missiles we will never use, why can’t we financially invest in the lives of people who would actually use the investment. There is of course the issue of how does something like what I am proposing get paid for. If you factor in real world equations such as back taxes, child support and people who would otherwise need to file bankruptcy then not only would this proposal eliminate some of that debt but it would also reduce the amount of money that would ultimately be distributed. If we use extremely generous eligibility numbers but also for the sake of making the math easy and calculate the number of qualified individuals at 200 million out the 325 that live in the U.S., it would be an investment of 1 million per household assuming that most Americans are a two income family.
Wow! That sounds great! You just proposed one of the best solutions ever to change the financial struggles of many Americans! Did I? I remember the late great Biggie Smalls saying, “Mo Money, Mo Problems”.
Given my proposal, in theory, many people who are close to retiring probably would. It would most certainly decrease the number of people utilizing our welfare system. Home ownership would increase and the retail industry would most certainly see a boom. I am sure that some individuals would start their own business and for others their charitable giving would greatly increase. Remember however, that I started this paragraph by saying “in theory” because this scenario also creates a situation where millions of Americans who although may have filed taxes, have actually never paid taxes before and now they would have to. The positive things I described would undoubtedly be the actions of some, but it realistically would not be the actions of most. Why? Contrary to popular opinion, having money does not change your mentality. If you have a poverty mindset, the only thing having money increases, is the amount of debt you are able to acquire. All the wishful thinking on earth does not change the potential that millions of people suddenly receiving a large amount of money all at once, wouldn’t ultimately create more financial issues. We would potentially move from a country with people who have financial challenges and become a country with people in financial ruin.
Let’s be fair. There are many people who live in a way that would be considered consistent with poverty and they have become comfortable with that lifestyle. We may not want to readily admit this, but it is a truth. There are areas in most of all lives where at one point or another we became comfortable with being uncomfortable and did not care to change our situation. The other side of that coin is no matter how uncomfortable we may be at times, we don’t always possess the knowledge to successfully change our circumstances. Carson’s statement is ultimately too general because it can come across as if everyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. That however, is not enough to make it his statement false.
There is a difference between desire and knowledge!
While for many a genuine lack of knowledge may be the main obstacle, what is also true is, all of the encouragement and information on earth is worthless without the target of that information having the desire to change and aspire for more. How many of us have met an athletically talented young man or woman and the sky seems to be the limit as to how high their abilities can take them, yet there is one major issue, their attitude sucks. I believe that mindset, the lousy attitude, is what Carson was referencing.
I stated earlier that Dr. Carson’s statement was an overgeneralization. Another thing that makes his statement far too general is that it also reduces “poverty” and its opposite “success” to the number of zeros in your bank account. A simple example is Mother Teresa, while she took a vow of poverty, no one would consider her as having lived the life of someone poor. She may not have had money but she was “rich” in other ways. This further illustrates, the mindset of poverty and how it is ill-defined in our country. Poverty is something we attempt to quantify using dollars and cents. The way we tend to use these arguments, at the end of the day, are nothing more than political talking points, which is what inspired this article. True riches and an escape from poverty absolutely begins in our minds!
Until we embrace the message from Napoleon Hill and Dr. Ben Carson and realize that our minds must first conceive, nothing can or ever will be achieved.