There are many forms to scarcity, and their influence can control our life. Scarcity is not only about poverty of means, or physical limitations. Scarcity is an assessment of the mind, and, when identified as a “depletion” in our life, it can have the serious effect of directing all our energy into the resolution of one specific need.

Abraham Maslow (Motivation and Personality) years ago helped us identify a hierarchy of motivations based on specific needs, from basic categories (hunger, shelter), to the need for safety and security, to the upper levels of motivation (belonging and love, self-esteem, and the highest, self-actualization). He noted that we try to meet those needs in that order of importance.

The challenge of scarcity is that it is a universal presence– in each of the level s of need fulfillment. Scarcity has the power to create anxiety at every level.  The perception of a “smallness of supply” begins physiologically (hunger, shelter), but also inhabits our fear for safety, our anxiety about being valued, and our fear of not being loved—or loving. The perception of scarcity replaces our sound perspective with an intensity designed to bring resolution and relief to an identified “poverty” in our life.

Scarcity at any level creates a “tunnel vision,” where other needs or matters are lost. Social scientists Shafir and Mullainathan (Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much) suggest that we often become so absorbed by a perceived “lack” of something—that our thinking and outlook are completely altered. We are held hostage by an obsession that redefines us.

Scarcity at our level of life may be about money, health, time (!), dieting, loneliness, or relationships.  Is there a silver lining to such intense focusing? Yes—if we can give ourselves to a need—without letting it assume the power of defining our entire life (the idolatry of reductionism).

Worth reflecting on?