Accepting Self-Interest and Why it’s Important to Success

It would be both pretentious and unrealistic to describe who I am in words. I could tell you my name, age, where I work, and what I like to do on the weekends, but none of these things define me or give insight to my character. I truly believe that we, as people, are defined by our experiences, our interactions, and our relationships. My purpose is only to experiences, to learn, to create new relationships, to strengthen my relationships that already exist, and through all these things, to live.

I first heard about La Ceiba through a friend who highly recommended the course. I’ve been interested in development through an economic perspective since beginning an economics course of study here at Mary Washington, and felt that I could contribute greatly to the project. Though I have made “service” an integral part of my life, it would be a lie to say that I have ever recognized La Ceiba as a service project. My original intention in joining to La Ceiba was only to apply my knowledge and skills to a project I knew I could be passionate about. As my interest and involvement in the project grew, I slowly began to recognize the impact La Ceiba could have for the people in these small Honduran towns.

The Illich article “To Hell With Good Intentions” makes a valid and interesting point. I am heavily considering a career in development, and have often had to ask myself a very hard question: to what extent is external development unwanted imposition? In my last couple years of college, I have interned with First Peoples Worldwide, a non-profit dealing with many different indigenous cultures internationally. My experience with First Peoples has taught me to be sensitive to this issue. I can remember my co-worker, Neva, explaining to me this issue. She acknowledged that there is work to be done. It is a fact that indigenous peoples are the poorest in the world, and this affects negatively their daily lives, making some populations liable to starvation and other major health risks. However, we must also recognize that not all people measure wealth equally. We must admit to ourselves that a developed lifestyle is not without fault, and that economic wealth is no substitute for spiritual wealth. The Illich article assumes that we, with the intention to bring economic development to Latin America, are going with the sole purpose of bettering the lives of the “less fortunate.” If, however, we can admit our own self-interest, our own faults, our own misfortunes, and acknowledge that we have everything to gain and to learn also from this experience, than this project, this “service”, will be successful.

I think it is important for all members of La Ceiba to truly consider the issue of poverty. What is poverty, what is wealth, and what are the relationships that exist between them? Even though we are all students of economics from the same university, we will undoubtedly have different answers to these questions. Now, if our answers are different, imagine the different answers we would get from people of a totally different culture. We must take ourselves off of our American “pedestal” before we enter Honduras to avoid the problems Illich cites in his article. I think the first step in doing so is to admit that this is not a case of us helping the “less fortunate”, but rather a mutually beneficial project aimed at helping all involved.

If there is one thing I would like to stress, it is that we must accept self-interest in order to do valuable work in La Ceiba. Going to La Ceiba in order to “help the less fortunate” is noble, but it is not completely honest. In order to do honest work there, we must be honest about our intentions. Our motivation is to do good work for ourselves, and our good work will hopefully benefit our Honduran partners more than it benefits us.

I hope to learn from my experiences with La Ceiba in a myriad of ways. I look forward to putting our economic research to work. I hope to strengthen my personal work ethic, leadership, and ability to work on a team. I will enjoy strengthening my relationships with my classmates, and creating new relationships in Honduras. Overall, I look forward to this semester, this project, this experience, and all that it has to offer.

One Response to “Accepting Self-Interest and Why it’s Important to Success

  • You bring up a good point that wealth and poverty in the way that we study it in economics and largely the way that our culture views it is fundamentally different for other people. We must be aware of this when we are attempting to aid our clients in their economic endeavors. Our culture of consumerism and excess is not something I want to be implicitly spreading to Hondurans. It is one thing to give people loans and teach them money management but far different to tell them what they should be spending it on and what their priorities in life should be. We must come back to the basics that economic development is all about improving the quality of life which is always a difficult thing to quantify but even more so when viewed by outsiders. Thus, I think the key is working with individuals to improve their abilities to help themselves and not instructing them on what we think they need help with.

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