"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar....it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring".
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
With Thanksgiving approaching and the Christmas season around the corner, people are getting into the festive mood, filled with a sense of thankfulness, kindness and generosity. Charitable campaigns are kicking in gear, and selfless Americans are ready to give. It's a wonderful sight and feeling in the heart to see so many people respond to the needs of others.
Any time of the year, in fact, is always a good time to donate whatever you can to assist those who are less fortunate. As the World Food Program reports, hunger and malnutrition devastates over 1,000,000,000 (1 Billion) children and families in the most impoverished parts of the world.
Compared to the topic of charities and personal donations, however, there is a question that rarely gets asked in our mainstream news stories and public dialogue:
Can charity alone solve our most urgent global crises?
Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't think so. Musician and human rights advocate Bono doesn't think so. Nobel Peace Prize recipient and economist Muhammad Yunus doesn't think so. From current and former presidents and prime ministers to philanthropists and business leaders, there is a long list of respected public voices who warn that justice, not charity, is the only long-term path to solve the global economic disparities among nations and various groups of people around the world.
Advocates for social and economic justice often go beyond the superficial aspect of rational economic theories. Textbooks and academic models have proven to be dry and inadequate, if issues like hunger and poverty are to be truly understood.
For one thing, we know charity can only reach so many people. It doesn't deal with the unjust trade laws, and how a small group of nations have imposed their own rules and essentially run the global economy to suit their desires for decades. Furthermore, charity in the form of foreign aid doesn't work nearly as well as most of us assume. Much of what the USA gives, for example, could be going into the hands of private consultants, instead of the poorest citizens. (*)
Some see a much deeper problem. The current instability and financial turmoil stems from a wrong approach to our basic view of life. Fundamentally, we are all spiritual beings. We have a spiritual heritage that must be recognized and restored in our consciousness. This is not to be confused with religious identity, but rather a basic, divine nature we share in common. Whether we follow a particular belief system or not, it is universally accepted
that all humans have a right to adequate food, shelter and medical care, as to not die of easily preventable causes.
"Civilized" beings would not allow over 24,000 of its fellow inhabitants to starve to death every single day, day after day, on a planet producing more than enough food for everyone. Yet we, in the wealthiest G-7 nations, call ourselves "civilized" and allow such a shameful act to be carried on.
Being a catalyst for change
We can only do so much as as individuals on our own. The global economic crisis seems like a mammoth problem to tackle, and many give up quickly because they don't know how or where to begin. There's no reason to feel hopeless or insignificant, though. We can join with others in calling for a larger, world-wide effort to redress the plight of the poor, to re-examine the economic structures that have brought so much misery and injustice up until now.
A holiday season amidst a financial crisis challenges us to re-think what it means to truly help the poor. Do we toss a coin to the beggars and walk away feeling fine, or can we go one step further and try talking to our neighbors, friends, and family about the deeper problems? The crime of hunger occurring in the midst of plenty is a collective problem. It's a spiritual problem. When others suffer, we inevitably suffer. When the tension ceases, and others have enough to live happily, we can live happily and be at ease with ourselves.
The problem of world hunger is a problem we, as a Western society, have allowed to continue, not in the sense that we are personally responsible, but because we collectively remain complacent and allow our leaders to get by without addressing such a glaring problem head on. It's time to solve this problem together. The only chance is for us to get louder, to call on our leaders for change, to be a part of a larger movement calling for justice. What's most important is to stop remaining silent.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. so bluntly put it, "there comes a time when silence is betrayal."
* Below is an article related to foreign aid and poverty relief. It may surprise readers just how little may actually be reaching those in need. Hence, there is a growing demand for less handouts and more re-structuring of the economy itself.
DEVELOPMENT: Aid for the Poor, Not for the Consultants
By Moyiga Nduru
JOHANNESBURG, Jul 5 (IPS) - No less than a quarter of annual development aid - about 20 billion dollars - is being used by donor countries to fund technical assistance of sometimes dubious worth, says ActionAid International in a new report.