In recent days, it was reported that the Methodist Welfare Society will be conducting a poverty simulation workshop for the participating members of the prestigious country club Singapore Island Country Club (SICC).
Called a poverty simulation exercise, the workshop was advertised in the Singapore Island Country Club’s (SICC) members magazine, and is set to be held next month.
Typically conducted for schools and volunteers, it is the first time Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) is holding the workshop for a country club.
Participants will be called upon to role-play and manage challenging scenarios, like supporting a family and making ends meet on a meagre income while juggling health issues.
This workshop garnered very mixed reviews, but the public was generally not impressed judging by this post from the New Paper, republished at AsiaOne.
One netizen, Maurice Simon, wrote on Facebook: “To think that you can engineer human emotions like empathy and compassion through a simulation exercise is just downright ludicrous.”
He doesn’t seem to be the only one who thinks so.
“It is very insulting,” said Madam Fion Phua, 45, founder of volunteer group Keeping Hope Alive, of the programme.
“Imagine this: While I am here struggling, living on little money and looking after my sick parent or child, there you are role-playing my position.
“Don’t you think that is rubbing salt into the wound?” asked Madam Phua, whose group helps the needy here.
I was incredulous how something that is so well meaning can turn to something so controversial.
This is what I think:
- If the rich men failed to empathize with the poor previously and only donate $3000, understanding their actual situations may result in them donating more than that.
- How far of empathy do you think participants will develop? For one thing, the country club member have to have a certain degree of empathy to sign up in the first place. The success of the program would mean that rich folks with empathy, understands the situation of the poor much better than before they went for the seminar
- At least the MWS is doing something to advance the course rather than the netizens who judges SICC and MWS. I will support the one who puts himself about to carry out the work that are judge by others daily then the arm chair critic who have little to lose.
The fact is that every little bit to create awareness and touch others to understand more about the plight of poverty helps.
This is far better comparatively to giving the rich men a letter telling him please donate to XXX cause. The conversion rate and magnitude of donation would likely be far higher had they ever had a better understanding the challenges they faced then the perceive poverty. To the rich, they might think surviving on $1000/mth on food alone is poverty when the actual situation is much worse.
If I am being honest, a course like this will be easier for the well heeled to signed up.
What is the best way for you to empathize with the poor? Live like them, on the same budget for 1 or 2 weeks. You are not simulating it on paper. You are living in their world of constraints.
Here is something some of you may not know: Practicing poverty is not something created 10 years ago. It is not some marketing gimmick some great marketer come up 30 years ago.
In fact, the top performers in start ups and tech companies are starting to see that practicing poverty and the stoic philosophy to really make sense, and allows them to develop the hardwork and grit necessary to succeed in life.
How practicing poverty can improve you
As an individual, looking to improve to become a better version of yourself, practicing poverty can have a few benefits.
The biggest benefit is that it forces you to confront a fear of a lot of people: Losing everything
You may fear taking a shift in your career, your life will result in a very bad situation for your family. You always think of the worst case scenario.
Practicing poverty forces you to simulate that scenario of losing everything.
When you go through a period of minimal, poverty like living, you realize that the worst case scenario may not be that bad.
This allows you to venture forth with the knowledge that the worst case scenario is not that scary.
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’”
Through practicing poverty, you will learn to cherish what you have now.
You will also be very aware of what is absolutely necessary in your current life and the things that are really unnecessary in your current life.
For example, you may realize that all you need is one cheap laptop that allows you to gain knowledge, wisdom, deliver value by helping others, entertain yourself, create work and business. You need a shelter, and simple food. You need to know how to prepare and cook simple meals.
The rest may be a good to have.
Derek Sivers, who created and sold CD Baby for $22 mil in 2008 have this to say about what is considered enough.
Practicing poverty is, in a way practicing stoicism.
When you practice being stoic, you develop the ability to look at things with rationality, push past the current failures, develop grit and endure hardship.
MIT Case Study of Practicing Poverty
Instead of a day course, MIT has a professor who mandated her pupils to practice poverty for a week.
The challenge is to survive on $2/day for a week.
Read about one student’s experience.
An audio letter on practicing poverty
The idea of practicing poverty is not something new.
2000 years ago, one of the originator of stoicism, Seneca.
He wrote a series of letters that have become essential readings for anyone who follows stoicism philosophy.
Tim Ferris recently decide to partner up with a bright individual who decides to translate the letters to audio.
Particularly, letter 18 talks about practicing poverty.
You should listen to the podcast episode here. The podcast starts at 4 min 57 sec. It is 12 minute long from this near 5 min mark.
You will realize that this concept is not from Singapore Island Country Club, but someone well respected centuries ago, and followed by high performers today.
Tim Ferris, whose net worth is probably more than any of you, spend a period of time practicing poverty to see what lessons he can learn from the experience.
Would you dare to do something similar as well?