Drowning in a World of Despair

This past week in school, I had one of those moments where I could actually feel the $20 000+ investment towards my higher education actually teaching me something! I’m just kidding, I feel that way about school all the time :)

Well instead of saying that, I guess I could say that what I learned this past week in school really hit home with Beyond Borders, and our mission and goals for this program. I’m really beginning to take what I’m learning and either apply it, or analyze its deeper meaning, to see how it’s affecting the global community.
So let me waste no more time highlighting with you, the wondrous teachings that I learned:

In my Foreign Policy class, we discussed the more recent notion of Ethics in foreign policy. Not only did I learn that I am completely Liberal when it comes to politics and foreign policy views, I learned about a man by the name of Peter Singer. Upon further investigation, I found out that Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher who specializes and writes about applied ethics, animal rights and liberation, abortion and infanticide, world poverty and famine, and even vegetarianism. The professor presented the class with a scenario by Singer, and so, without further ado, I will present it to you, the readers.

The Scenario:
Suppose you were on your way to an important interview for the job of your dreams; dressed decadently in your brand new suit, your confidence is soaring at an all-time high because you know all there is to know about the company and the position; there’s just no way you cannot get this job! But suppose on your way to the interview you have to walk by a pond. As you’re walking along you see a child, whom you’ve never met, drowning in the pond. In order to help the child you have to get your brand new suit wet and dirty and you will miss your interview. If you can, without endangering yourself, save the child, do you have an obligation to do so? Does your obligation change if the other passersby, who are as equally capable of rescuing the child, are standing around twiddling their thumbs, or simply watching the child drown? Most would agree that none of the above matters, and that rescuing that child should be the only priority irrespective of the dream job or the people taking no action. But then, Singer proposes this: “[W]ould it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country perhaps, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost – and absolutely no danger – to yourself?” Singer’s students, he says, initially say no, that distance and/or nationality do not change the morality of the situation to help those further away. The reality is, however, that we are living in this situation every day; everyday there is a drowning child or adult, who may not be an arm’s length away, who resides in Ukraine, Uganda, Kenya, Peru, Argentina and India, but is still in need of our help, and whom we can help, without putting ourselves in any extra danger or risk. The only problem is, because of access, we tend to help those who are physically closer to us, and give them greater priority than those living further away.

Singer goes on to say that sacrificing that brand new CD, a new pair of jeans, or BeyoncĂ© concert tickets is what it would cost us to save the lives of people drowning overseas. Donating to organizations like Red Cross or Oxfam, “overcome the problem of acting at a distance.”

After reading “The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle” (click the link to read the article in its entirety, which I strongly recommend you do!), all I could say was, “That’s it!” It hit the nail right on the head! People like to place more value on the lives of people who live closer to them, than those who are in another country - which shouldn’t be the case at all – because of convenience. A lot of people only think within the borders of their country. My mother for example doesn’t understand why I can’t just volunteer here in Canada. Well it’s for that reason alone. There are people drowning in India who need help as well. I’m not purporting at all, that I am the one who’s going to rescue them from the "water", but I am recognizing that they are equally entitled to, and deserving of, the same aid I would give anyone else here in Canada.

In a sense, I do understand the “dilemma”. After all, I was brought up in this environment so I see the mentality towards issues like this. I do understand that helping people closer to us is, physically, so much easier. And that people worry about sending their money to organizations because of all the corruption that takes place, and they don’t know where their money is actually going. For me, and I’m going to be 100% honest here so don’t hate me afterwards, I sometimes use the fact that I am a struggling student, with no income whatsoever, as a reason why I cannot donate to any agencies or NGO’s, because every penny counts for me. Yet, at the same time, I can justify buying a new shirt and skirt at H&M, or spending $5 on a triple-venti-nonfat-dolce-mocha-choc-a-latte drink at Starbucks (yes I know, it’s ridiculous which is why I don’t do it often), but sending a donation seems like – dare I say it – a “waste” of money? :( It’s quite horrible, now that I think about it! And unfortunately, that’s how a lot of us think – that our self-interests are more important. That skirt and that latte are going to bring us instant pleasure, whereas sending our money to an organization that sends packages to hungry children, does not seem as satisfying because we can’t see the fruits of our hard earned dollar. Don’t get me wrong, we obviously we must provide for ourselves first, and I don’t expect everyone to donate 25% of their income to charities like Singer, but what I’m concerned about is the over consumption of EVERYTHING in our “Western” world - buying more of what we already have plenty of, and not acknowledging the detrimental effects it has our global community.

Singer touches on this as well in the article, and again, I could not agree more. He also refers to the “Ideology of the free market” - the fact that our goal in life is to achieve the ultimate success so we can consume, and then we work harder, so we can earn more money, so that we can consume even more. It’s a vicious cycle, and not a very fulfilling one, at that. No wonder environmentalists have strong reason to believe that over consumption is depleting the world’s natural resources.

I don’t want this post to come off the wrong way. In no way am I saying to follow every suggestion Singer has written, and I don’t want to sound like I’m ordering everyone to consume less, and stop buying or indulging in nice things, even deliciously over-priced drinks, and to give all your money away to charities and live in holes for the rest your lives. I certainly know that is not ideal; even for me. But a little awareness may go a long way. The next time you go to purchase something, you may ask yourself, “Do I really need this [insert expensive good here], or can I go another month or so with what I already have?” And try and realize that there is an entire world outside of your own country. There are 6.8 billion people in the world and 195 countries and, in 2005, 32% or the entire world’s wealth was in the hands of the United States, alone (Family Care Foundation: Village of 100 People, 2005). It’s time to become more aware, it’s time to make smarter decisions… and it’s time to start thinking more about the people who are not an arm's length away, but who are still drowning.

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1 Response to "Drowning in a World of Despair"

  1. Elyse says:
    March 18, 2010 at 12:16 PM

    Thanks for the article... I've posted it on my Facebook page!

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