What is the culture of scarcity? Why are we so preoccupied with scarcity as a society and how can we overcome this mentality?
A culture of scarcity is a culture preoccupied with lack, in which the focus is on your inadequacies, and there is a perpetual felt sense of “never enough.” We’re afraid we’re not enough, and we respond to this by trying to prove how extraordinary we are.
Keep reading for more about the culture of scarcity.
What Is a Culture of Scarcity?
As a collective, we have experienced (and continue to experience) local, national, and global trauma that has stolen our sense of safety. Culturally, we’re traumatized, and it manifests as a hyper-vigilant, pervasive, underlying worry. As a way of control, we hold up an idealized image of ourselves, our lives, our days (in other words, Instagram-worthy), and when reality doesn’t hold up, we experience suffering. From a cultural standpoint, this creates problematic results.
Result #1: Shame and Lack of Self-Worth
Shame is apparent in our culture in the way we use criticism as a weapon or a means of disempowering others, in the way our sense of worthiness is dependent on validation, and in the way we reward perfectionism and punish mistakes. Shame makes you seek confirmation outside of yourself to prove your worthiness, instead of trusting that you’re worthy regardless of your flaws.
Result #2: Comparison
In a culture of scarcity, we are always comparing our lives to the lives of others, or to our idea of the perfect life. Competition is healthy for growth, but over-comparison impedes growth by limiting it to a narrow standard or expectation.
Result #3: Disengagement
Culture of scarcity is full of disengagement—we are disengaged in the way we glorify hiding or detaching from pain (stoicism), as well as in our collective focus on serving the self and not the other (individualism). Disengagement prevents you from taking risks in your life, because you are detached from your willingness to be vulnerable. You’re not present enough to show up. When disengaged, you’re not able to be seen or heard, and you’re not able to truly see or hear others, which impedes your ability to connect, and activates your fear of inadequacy. When you’re not able to connect in meaningful ways, or feel like others don’t have the desire to invest time and effort into connecting with you, you doubt your worthiness of love.
Result #4: Narcissistic Behavior
The more you compare your life to the ideal life, the more inadequate you will feel as a result of the scarcity mentality. The more inadequate you feel, the more you attach yourself to the ideal. It’s a vicious cycle, and we’ve gotten so caught up in it, that we’ve begun to display more and more “narcissistic” behavior as a collective. We demonstrate behaviors like hyper prioritization of our own needs, putting others down to make ourselves feel more important, or basic dismissiveness. Instead of looking more closely at the root of these behaviors, we chalk them up to us all being a bunch of hopeless narcissists.
Narcissistic behavior is learned behavior, which means it is not the problem, but the result of a problem. Narcissists, deep down, behave the way they do out of fear and shame. They want to be seen as extraordinary, because they believe that is what they need to be to belong. We also have a tendency to demonize these traits, which reinforces the mentality of scarcity.
Your behavior is not who you are. When the world defines you by your behavior, you are more ashamed or afraid to ask for help. The culture of scarcity sees shame as a solution, but shame is the root of the problem, and the way we currently hold that problem impedes our ability to actualize a real solution.
Overcoming the Culture of Scarcity Mentality: Wholeheartedness
How do we address the root of the problem? The antithesis to a scarcity mentality, according to Brown, is Wholeheartedness. Wholeheartedness revolves around the willingness to be vulnerable and the belief that you are already enough.
For example, you can take steps to be more vulnerable by:
- Setting a boundary with someone you love because you know you are worthy of better treatment
- Trying out a sport you’ve never played before
- Sharing something special you’ve created with others
Each of these reflects a willingness to expose yourself, and demonstrates a belief in your worthiness regardless of the outcome of the experience.
The price of buying into the culture of scarcity is that you become unable to embrace vulnerability or believe in your worth. If you want to live a wholehearted life, you need to confront these blocks, and move beyond the feeling of “never enough.”
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Here's what you'll find in our full Daring Greatly summary:
- What it means to live Wholeheartedly
- The 3 things you need to feel happy and healthy
- How scarcity and shame prevent you from achieving a Wholehearted life