by Foteini Svarna
- Greece -
On December 29, 2014 the Greek Parliament failed to elect a new president in the final parliamentary vote. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has called for a snap national election on January 25, 2015. Though Greeks seem to be optimistic after positive signs of recovery and the return of the Greek state to the international markets in 2014, a new period of uncertainty is fraying their nerves and reigniting the fear of poverty.
Babiniotis Dictionary of Modern Greek defines poverty as the state of being poor. “Lacking the necessary resources … poverty … has existed since ancient times as an endemic state in any small country with limited natural resources and means, such as Greece.” The rate of employment is a credible and valid means of measuring poverty because, through employment, a worker can meet his or her basic needs.
Eurostat and the Hellenic Statistical Authority reports indicate that in Greece, 31 percent of the population was living at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2011. The statistic reflects the lives of Greek families coping with strict austerity measures and extremely high taxes. Many salaries in Greece are not enough for basic needs such as housing, nutrition, and clothing. Greeks who could afford a house and a car before the financial crisis were suddenly left without work and now fight for survival.
Children are often at greater risk of poverty or social exclusion than the rest of the population. In Greece we quite often hear stories about children going to school hungry or underfed, and asking their classmates for leftovers. Nick, a builder living in Athens, confides that he has not secured a job for more than two years. His daughter fainted at her school because for days they were living on pasta. Unfortunately Greek schools do not offer subsidized lunches. For parents like Nick, the cold shadow of the fear of poverty hovers around them and it is robbing them of their hopes and dreams.
Being curious to find out what exactly this fear is, what effect it may have on us, and how we can overcome it, I sought the knowledge and advice of Mr. Akis Angelakis, a highly acclaimed Greek author, counselor, and coach. Angelakis organizes seminars and gives speeches in Greece and abroad. He is well-known for inspiring and encouraging people to improve their lives.
In an interview, Mr. Angelakis tells me there are three factors which affect an individual’s state of mind regarding this fear. First is our upbringing and what we hear from important people in our lives; second is what Angelakis calls hearings on the landing. “When parents return from their job, have dinner, and talk about their financial problems and how unfair life is, believing their child is sleeping upstairs and does not hear them. Yet, the child may wake up, sit on the landing, and hear everything which can leave an impression. He then believes we do not deserve wealth, money is bad, or money means pain.” The third factor is our core beliefs which are “the beliefs which are in the core of our existence and predetermine the way we function every day.” In his book For a Better Life Angelakis remarks, “If you wish you were rich but you are afraid of poverty, you will end up being poor.”
We all know people who have an unhealthy relationship with money. That is what my friend George, a 30-year-old carpenter, discovered when he tried to find out why his family was always poor. He admits his family is not a victim of the current financial crisis. They are poor now and they were poor before. Though his parents were employed, they had never savings for a rainy day. They had a core belief that since they come from poverty, their destiny is never to be well-off; they do not deserve money.
As Angelakis tells me, “There is a dark part inside all of us as regarding our relationship with money and we have to search for it, feel the pain of recognizing it, sink into it, and embrace it. ... We should ask ourselves: Have we got money or not? If not, why? At which point are we the co-creators of our mistakes? Afterwards, the change will slowly come. Being liberated from the chains of fear in relation to money is a complex procedure.”
The symptoms and the consequences of the fear of poverty are interconnected. “The fear paralyzes us” Angelakis tells me. “It has more than one face. It may also appear as procrastination.”
This comes to my mind when I meet Helen, a fashion designer and a mother of three. Both she and her husband were laid off a year ago. Her dreams were crushed and her life took a difficult turn. She got lost in the fear of not being able to provide for her children. She lost her energy, was paralyzed into inaction, and could not see any opportunities. She felt frustrated and started to quarrel with her husband accusing him of all the financial difficulties they were in. She started to make bad decisions and the question which tortured her was “Why did this happen to us?”
Angelakis suggests that when we are in the eye of the storm we should avoid lamenting. Instead, we must start creating. “When we are in a state of agony, anxiety, and need, the question is not ‘why’; it is ‘how.’ The question is not ‘when’; it is ‘where.’ ‘Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? How can I solve this problem?’ When we are poor, the question is not ‘Why am I poor?’, it is ‘How can I earn money and change my life?’”
Angelakis’ final advice for Greeks living in financial turmoil is “to guide our children into doing first what they have to do to be financially independent and later they will be able to do what makes their soul sing. If you are poor, you cannot enjoy your dream to the fullest.”
For Helen, the mother of three, the turning point came when she attended Mr. Angelakis’ speeches and applied his strategies to her life. Slowly and steadily her way of thinking changed. First she managed to secure a part-time job at a bookshop. Later she established her own small home-based business and started to earn money to pay for housing, food, and medical care. Now she knows she has the potential to achieve economic success. She takes personal responsibility, has a positive attitude, and teaches her children how to work their way up to economic independence. She is reaping the fruits of her determination.
Applying Angelakis’ advice will help us to find the best solutions to our problems, adopt new approaches, and never let again the fear of poverty undermine our development and erode our decision-making processes. We Greeks have to realize that getting out of this financial crisis demands our effort. If we stop complaining, start setting realistic financial plans and goals, and try to be efficient and innovative, our lives will get brighter.