Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Life You Can Save

I'm reading through The Life You Can Save, a book by Peter Singer, professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. With a pedigree like that you'd think this would be a difficult book to muddle through. In fact, the opposite is true. Singer makes fairly simple but airtight arguments for why each of us in rich countries like Canada, the U.S., etc. need to be giving to help those living in poverty in developing nations.

Singer does not pull any punches and causes me to question my own commitment to "the cause." Here's a few examples for you...

"Now think about your own situation. By donating a relatively small amount of money, you could save a child's life. Maybe it takes more than the amount needed to buy a pair of shoes-but we all spend money on things we don't really need, whether on drinks, meals out, clothing, movies, concerts, vacations, new cars, or house renovation. Is it possible that by choosing to spend your money on such things rather than contributing to an aid agency, you are leaving a child to die, a child you could have saved?" (Pg. 5)

"When we spend our surplus on concerts or fashionable shoes, on fine dining and good wines, or on holidays in faraway lands, we are doing something wrong." (Pg. 18)

Commenting on faith traditions that prioritize care of the poor...

"Thomas Aquinas...also cited the Decretum Gratiani, a twelfth-century compilation of canon law that contains the powerful statement, 'The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.' Note that 'owed' and 'belongs.' For these Christians, sharing our surplus wealth with the poor is not a matter of charity, but of our duty and their rights." (Pg. 20)

Singer is no raving extremist calling us to mindlessly give everything away. He is very careful to note that our giving need not be to the extent that it hurts our own children and families, however, he is, to this point in the book at least, making a strong case for giving all that we would spend on our own extravagances (bottled water, excess clothing, vacations, etc.) to aid agencies with the expertise to put it to good use.

If you question whether we in wealthy countries have a responsibility to care for the poor around the world, I suggest you read The Life You Can Save. Singer will address your objections and at very least, cause you to question your own "goodness" in relation to what you are doing to help people in developing countries. I know he's making me ask some serious questions of my own life.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ecuador: Life At It's Purest

The video below, produced by the Ecuadorian ministry of tourism, will give you a great overview of the beauty of Ecuador and its diverse cultural traditions. As much as I love seeing these images as a reminder of my time there, it ignores completely the struggles of the indigenous peoples who live in poverty in rural areas outside of the main cities. Of course, that's to be expected in a video intended to entice tourists to visit, but it was in those communities where I genuinely fell in love with the country and her people.

Just as we often do with homeless folks here in Canada, the poor get swept under the rug in an attempt to make things "prettier" when in fact, true beauty is found in the faces of the children who live in these communities. A zipline over the rainforest will take your breath away but a hug from an impoverished child will steal your heart.