I woke up with a pain in my shoulder yesterday and as I attempted to manage that pain, it occurred to me that this is what scarcity is like. I finished reading Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir’s book, Scarcity, not long ago, so the concept has been on my mind.
When you’re suffering from a physical pain, a great deal of your attention (or “bandwidth” as the authors of Scarcity would say) is captured by it. You do your best to concentrate on other things but the slightest adjustment in your position brings it quickly and forcefully back into focus.
So it is with scarcity – when your mind is busy working on the problems that having too little money or time brings, it is ever occupied with the issue. You may try to concentrate on writing or other tasks but the slightest suggestion can bring your circumstances back to the forefront. Before you know it, your whole afternoon is derailed by the little twinge, the constant reminder of your difficulties.
Those who have never experienced the panic of having only $15 in the bank when the rent is due might not easily be able to understand how all consuming that worry can be, how it can derail all other plans and intentions. But most people, no matter how blessed with abundance, have experienced the debilitating effects of pain.
They feel almost the same to me. One is physical, one is mental, but both pains capture attention I’d much rather be placing elsewhere. And like a pain the shoulder one can find a way to live with Scarcity long term if one has to. But even if you’re used to it, it never goes away entirely. It severely limits what you can do – your movement, your flexibility.
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