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December 29, 2004

If I am only for myself, what am l?

I couldn't say this remotely as well as Maxine (smarter harder working better looking half of westciv) did today at her blog.

In the last couple of years "civilized" governments in the western world have spent hundreds of billions of dollars "liberating" Iraq. Our governments spend hundreds of billions more every year on weapons systems that (thankfully) are rarely if ever used.
Australia alone has a defence budget of around $10 Billion, a staggering amount (about $500 per head for every man woman and child). Goodness knows what the US spends.

Surely catastrophic disasters such as what has happened and is continuing in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere in the Indian ocean must give us pause to ask, are we making the right decisions as to how to spend our wealth?

The essence of Maxine's post is that we happy few, with our internet connections, and leisure time to read and write, are so inordinately fortunate above all because our grasp on comfort, let alone life is not tenuous.

But we are often so complacent, and only dreadful events that end the lives of countless of our fellow human beings even wake us from our privileged slumber.

We spend our lives worrying about trivial crap, like whether there is too little or too much celebration of christmas, or getting upset that people who are attracted to those of the same gender should dare to want to have the same rights as those of us who happen to be attracted to those of a different gender.

Maybe we should get our priorities right.

Let's start by accepting how privileged and fortunate we are. That might help us put the stuff we often complain about in perspective, and then help us focus on the stuff that does matter (IMHO).
Nothing new. Stuff like the vast majority of children in the world getting insufficient nourishment, lacking clean water, missing out on decent educations.
Stuff like preventable diseases killing millions every year.

I don't know why I let it happen. Out of sight out of mind I guess.

My new years resolution is to try harder to keep it in my mind.

Sure I do good things. I do quite a bit of volunteer work in my own community (and I think that is really important, communities that work are better inclined and able to reach out to others). And I sponsor a child in Africa. I hope that helps her and her community a little. I am sure it is better than nothing.

But years ago, in my cynical youth, I used to use the expression "band aids on broken necks" a lot. I guess the point was so often what we do helps little, other than to make us feel a little better.

At the bottom of this all, I think the root cause of so much of the suffering (for want of a better word) in this world, whether it be in poorer parts of our own cities and countries, or in the poorer parts of the developing world is entrenched inequality.
If you start life without resources, without access to education, you know, you have little chance of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps". Hard work counts for little when you are mal nourished, and born into poverty and debt.

Our fundamental challenge is to break cycles of poverty and disempowerment. A pipe dream?

Perhaps, but the story of micro banking, which began in Bangladesh (when I was a kid, Bangladesh was a by-word for poverty) with the Grameen Bank is a phenomenal success. Read a little about it, it is genuinely inspiring. You can even invest in the Grameen Bank (investment, not charity) in the US or Australia.

Things can change ("shift happens") as some wise person once said.

But right now, my feeling is we also need band aids. So if you have a little left in the kitty after all the gifts, food, and enjoyment of the season, god knows there are a lot of people who need it right now. Not only need it, their lives depend on it.

A good overview of things you can do is here

2000 years ago, give or take, a great Jewish sage (no not that one, but the Rabbi Hillel) said

If I am not for myself, who shall be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am l?
If not now, when?

So if not now, when?

December 29, 2004 | Permalink


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