Minimalism vs. Intentional Poverty

In the world of growth, convenience, and plenty the rise of minimalism seems to be a fascinating counter-culture. But what I rarely hear about is the concept’s older sibling, intentional poverty. The context I pull intentional poverty from is in the example of Saint Francis of Assisi. I will dive into his example later on but first, going to baseline both of these concepts.

Minimalism as a wholistic topic encompasses minimal variety in materials, mental subjects, and spiritual variety. The intention of minimizing variety is to find an appreciation in the few rather than the many and gives greater exploration in few things than many short distances.

Intentional poverty is deliberately denying yourself pleasurable experiences or actions that encourage physical excess such as eating foods or partaking in drink that is above the simplist options.

Both have similar intentions but in their quest to define quality they travel different paths to a similar destination.

Quality in minimalism focuses on experiencing few things to their fullest. There is the potential for repetition to create strong comparison giving that experience the ability to be great and terrible. By minimizing, we also are given less to focus on and allowing us the potential to give a greater amount of interest to those things in front of us.

Quality in intentional poverty looks beyond experience of contrast. By minimizing pleasurable experiences, worldly possessions, and security of necessity, it is easier to appreciate the seemingly mundane. For Saint Francis, intentional poverty was his way of connecting to god through the neglect of self. There is the possibility that by limiting self focus, the filters put on through comfort are removed and things unseen before become clearer.

Using a bee and a wasp, going to attempt to use both as examples of the two concepts and what strengths and weaknesses they posses. The bee, as minimalism, collects pollen from local flowers and builds a nest that produces honey. The bee is a minimally defensive creature and searches only for the sweetness local pollen provides. In that quest of simple pleasure, it contributes to a much wider picture and has become intricately connected the well-being of many other flora and fauna. The bee is what I will call a late-stage minimalist. The bee needs no excess but by nature explores the pleasures of it’s world.

The wasp is an aggressive creature who fends on what is left over from others. Even so, there will never be a lack of supply for the wasp. The wasp, as intentional poverty, multiplies fiercely and is protective through natural defense systems. Perhaps a difficult comparison when looking at the bee so positively but consider the wasp an early-stage actor in intentional poverty. It’s evolution is such that it needs little that it cannot be given by the community but it does not yet take to give back.

The challenge is looking at both and seeing that the wasp has much more stability even though it lacks a larger ecosystem of influence than the bee does. The bee with it’s influence walks the tight rope between between being the turnkey of production and the destruction of it by being so interconnected.

The origin of the comparison of minimalism and intentional poverty comes from a reading of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. We’ll call him a “late-stage” actor of intentional poverty. Due to the religious vigor, kind nature, and dedication to the abuse of his senses he is not connected in such a way as to cause damage yet influential. During his life he gave and took as such to leave less of himself as he progressed. Seems obvious that the great self abuse shortened his life considerably yet in doing so lived without question fully.

The question I’m left with is whether a character of quality, as in Saint Francis, could have lived the life of a bee and found similar truths? Or by being so connected to the world, damaged those connected when they leave?