Asking for Change

Today we are joining over 11,000 people all across the world in writing about poverty as part of something called Blog Action Day 2008. The aim is to raise awareness, initiate action and to make a positive change in the are of poverty.

One definition of poverty is to live in possession of or access to little or none of a vital resource. The broadest definition of poverty includes not only money, food, water and shelter but all of those things that make human dignity possible including education, employment and positive social interaction. In the United States we worship this as a right under the banner of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet according to census statistics (based on income alone) more than one out of every eight Americans lives in poverty. Many more of us have experienced poverty as the lack of access to education, employment or healthcare. If the richest country in the world cannot bring nearly a tenth of its population out of poverty, what does this bode for the world?
One of the facts about global business travel today is that we can witness within an hour the richest of riches to the most disturbing poverty. Too often this is from the window of a car, hotel or airplane. My travels have taken me beyond the United States to Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Thailand, Philippines, Japan, China, England, Ireland, Hungary, Mexico, Canada, Indonesia, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Korea, New Zealand and the Czech Republic. I have asked for change, and have been asked for change, in every one of these countries. Poverty never hid from me during these visits.
But I do not believe that there is poverty in terms of a lack of resources in any of these places. In fact there is abundance. The sad irony is that business travel allows us to see too many unfinished meals, empty hotel rooms, unfinished repair work or basic unfinished infrastructure and at the same time workers not employed to do so. We meet unemployed or underemployed teachers in the midst of people hungry for education.
In fact there is no such thing as a poverty of resources except in the remotest and most barren parts of this planet that are most sparsely inhabited, if at all. Most of the time there is poverty in the midst of abundance. But simply redistributing resources does not address the root of problems. What people experiencing poverty need is not the kind of change they can put in their pocket and spend, but the ability to make a lasting change in their own lives. What we have is a poverty of ideas. Ideas are free, yet most of us are not doing enough to give freely of this type of change to those most in need of our ideas.
It is always a risk to cite the internet as evidence of anything, but a quick Google search on these terms returned the following results:
Search term & Websites
“wealth” = 98,100,000 entries
“poverty” = 70,600,000 entries
“personal wealth” = 1,010,000 entries
“ending poverty” = 171,000 entries
“increasing wealth” = 10,500,000 entries
“reducing poverty” = 498,000 entries
“how to get rich” = 1,710,000 entries
“how to escape poverty” = 3,330 entries
On the one hand it is not surprising that the people who have wealth have the means to seek out more wealth or to provide services, create websites and sell information on how to create more wealth. People who are in poverty have less means to get on the internet and help pull other people out of poverty. What does it say about our civilization when we use our advances in technology to increase wealth rather than reduce poverty? It is more than a poverty of ideas, it is a poverty of will.
Poverty can be reduced simply by being more mindful of the time, resources and influences that we waste in the course of our day. All we need is the will to direct these resources towards creating a more harmonious society with greater human dignity for all. Surely we can all take the occasional moment away from our focus on increasing personal wealth to help others gain access to the abundance around us. We all have the ability to create change that is far more valuable than that jingling in our pockets.

2 Comments

  1. Lester

    October 16, 2008 - 2:02 pm

    Great post Jon,
    Thanks.

  2. Robert

    October 20, 2008 - 1:25 am

    It is a great post, Jon!
    I think the problem is, that if we start to analyse a situation, we could find complex problems, a lot of causes, motives/motivations, we (think we)cannot understand and change. It is a mistake.
    I saw a lot of “to-do-lists” in my life, full with things OTHERS have to do and almost nothing about what I have to do. We are waiting for a change in the neighbourhood, but the neighbour does the same – and nothing happens…
    My favourite quote for the situation:
    “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”
    /Gandhi/