Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

Scarcity Captures the Mind

window-shutteredIt 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.

Listen to Choose to be Curious – Episode 11: Curiosity, Trauma and Incarceration – with Elizabeth Jones.



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