It began with this idea of scarcity. That when something is scarce — food, money, time — it takes over our minds and clouds our decisions. That over-scheduled rich people have something fundamental in common with cash-strapped poor people, and that “something” finds expression in compromised, sometimes catastrophic, choices.
Taken as I was by the simple elegance of Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir’s work on the subject, I wanted to find a way to explore what becomes of curiosity in a world defined by scarcity.
But the subject brushes shoulders with taboo, with the unsayable in certain circles: that some people make predictably bad decisions. And sometimes those people are poor, or find themselves in difficult circumstances, and sometimes they do stuff that gets them in trouble — literal, figurative, legal, or otherwise.
But then it begins to sound like poverty is the reason people end up in places like jail, which isn’t what anyone was saying. And so it was a delicate enterprise when I approached the local offender aid and restoration program to have a conversation about what happens to curiosity before, during and after incarceration.
Interestingly, talking about trauma was more comfortable, more on message.
I didn’t have an agenda other than to explore what becomes of curiosity when constraints are imposed — and where are constraints more real than in the criminal justice system? — so the conversation circled around trauma, not scarcity. And perhaps they not so different. Trauma, the indelible imprint of something terribly gone. Security denied, trust savaged. Scarcity imposed.