Building Empathy Across Socioeconomic Lines

The key to any effective poverty alleviation is love. 

God made the world out of love, and redeems us through His love expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. He made us to enjoy loving relationships with Him, with ourselves, with others, and with the rest of His creation. Because of this, our work to walk with people in material poverty needs to be relational and participatory in nature, working together with people out of love, not merely doing things for them. True relationships are a two-way street. We give and receive. 

But for many of us, the connections that make this kind of work possible do not come naturally. The U.S. has become increasingly divided across socioeconomic lines over the past several decades, and most Americans don’t have a lot of overlap with people living in a different socioeconomic bracket. We tend to live, work, and worship alongside people like ourselves. 

Getting Out of Our Comfort Zone

For middle- or upper-income Americans, pursuing relationships with people experiencing material poverty requires effort. We won’t experience transformational relationships unless we pursue them. 

It’s easy to think that we can develop relationships across socioeconomic lines and stay in our comfort zone, but it’s simply not possible.

Building authentic relationships requires empathy. For people who have never experienced material poverty, it can be difficult to comprehend how stressful and disempowering it feels to be trapped in it.

The Benefit of Walking in Someone Else’s Economic Shoes

While we can’t fully understand what our low-income neighbors face on a daily basis, there is an interactive online application called Spent that simulates what it’s like to walk a bit in their shoes. Chalmers uses this 3rd party app as part of our Faith & Finances facilitator training to give learners a tool for their own growth, as well as something they can use to help ministry volunteers gain empathy for those they are walking with.

Spent will assign you to a life situation and ask you to make some tough decisions on a limited budget—very much like people in your community are making. You’ll have to figure out which impossible trade-offs you’re willing to make. 

Click HERE to try the Spent Experience and get a sense of what it takes to make it through the month when you’re living near the poverty line.

Share What You Discovered

We encourage you to take some time to explore Spent and see how powerful it is. After you’ve seen the challenges that your neighbors are facing, leave a comment and share what you discovered as a result.

For more practical wisdom on how to cultivate empathy and build relationships across socioeconomic lines, consider our self-paced online course, Are You A Good Neighbor? Take this on your own or with a group from your church or ministry to build your capacity for relational, participatory poverty alleviation.

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center helps God’s people rethink poverty and respond with practical biblical principles so that all are restored to flourishing.

Leave a Comment