What it Means to Play my Part


I am an undergraduate student; by common stereotype that makes me overly enthusiastic, overly ambitious, and overly idealistic about the world viewed through an academic lens. I am often on the receiving end of commentary that doubts the theoretical applicability of learned ideas and that projects an heir of jaded complacency. These generalizations, I realize, are not a reflection of who I am as a person, but more a reflection of how I choose to view the world and it’s potential.  I do recognize the occasional validity of individuals’ doubts but not so that I can pander in the emotion of self-reluctance; instead I acknowledge the comments as fuel for my motivation to fill the gaps that their doubts have made.

Global poverty does not have to be the status quo, nor does the belief that altruism has selfish intentions. As Illich points out there are flaws in the American doctrine of “sharing God’s blessing with his poorer fellow man”; there is the idea of paternalistic duty, guilt and selfish pride. These flaws are better recognized than ignored, and do not apply to everyone who seeks to do good in the world. People understand the importance of our global interconnectedness and I do believe that in many ways my ‘liberation’ is tied to that of the poor whom I’ve never met. Right now, though, I can’t qualify or quantify that feeling, but I do know that it is a very real statement.

 In response to one of Illich’s most inflammatory claims that “there is no common ground whatsoever for you to meet on”, I disagree. In fact, I almost find that insulting. To assume that the poor and the volunteer can’t share wisdom, humor and common ambitions insinuates a level of inequality that I will not prescribe to.  We are bonded by more than just our class or life circumstances; it may come as a challenge to reflect on those commonalities, but they do exist.

I also believe that unselfish altruism exists. Side note: Growing up with a blind father has made me more aware of life circumstances other than my own; ie blindness. My dad has never made his disability a point of pity or source of dependence (comparable in parallel to the poor who don’t beg to be saved, but are working hard to advance their circumstances in any way possible).  Among the values that my dad’s blindness has taught me is the awareness of others and the sources of struggle that exist in their lives. For me the core of this means doing what I can to alleviate the obstacles (literally and figuratively) that impede their independence and freedom from poverty.

In an effort to alleviate the poverty that traps billions of individuals, I believe the economic approach is the most thoughtful. While I’m not an expert on poverty by any means, I do know that the economic way of thinking is an ideal framework for addressing poverty because it forces us to think logically in terms of efficiency and sustainability, instead of the human emotion that can quickly cloud goals of increased productivity, economic growth, and overall movement of the poor out of poverty.

One Response to “What it Means to Play my Part

  • senbaunders
    14 years ago

    I like your preface, and I agree with your place of beginning when you say that “these flaws are better recognized.” We can only start this work once we know that we will commit errors.

    But intent is a separate question from result, isn’t it? Unselfish altruism as you call it, assumes that we only intend to do good for others. That we need to qualify the word altruism with “unselfish” I think points out a contradiction between your last two points: economics is inherently selfish. After all, these are wealth maximizing rational individuals we deal with in economics class rooms.

    You are so clearly a wiser person for understanding the experience of you father – I don’t doubt that his blindness is painful. But doesn’t he love his life? That is, in terms of poverty, what if efficiency and sustainability are red herrings? What if poverty means something different to you tomorrow?

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