It was not I, it was the weapon

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Picture of the Confusian philosopher Mencius.
The Confusian philosopher Mencius (c. 300 BC)

There is nothing new about the idea that we have a strong moral obligation to help those in need.

Peter Singer in his book ‘The Life You Can Save‘ describes an account between Mencius and ‘King Hui of Liang’ who lived around 300 BC. Singer claims Mencius as second only to Confucius in influencing Chinese thought and regarded as the most authoritative interpreter of the Confusian tradition. On arriving in the king’s court, he made this statement about moral obligation to help the poor:

There are people dying from famine on the roads, and you do not issue the stores of your granaries for them. When people die, you say: “Is it not owing to me; it is owing to the year.” In what does this differ from stabbing a man and killing him, and then saying: “It was not I, it was the weapon?

Singer writes: “In one-on-one situations where rescue is easy, our intuitions tell us that it would be wrong not to do it. We all see or read appeals to help those living in extreme poverty in the world’s poorest countries. And yet most of us reject the call to ‘do unto others’.

2011: a year of new beginnings? If you are reading this, you probably already go that extra mile. How do we bring others on the journey so together we can make a bigger and lasting difference?


Charity Doesn’t Solve Anything

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Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú.
Carlos Slim Helu

Can we criticise Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim (the Mexican billionaire listed by Forbes as the world’s richest man) for his perspective on what makes change happen:

The only way to fight poverty is with employment. Trillions of dollars have been given to charity in the last 50 years, and they don’t solve anything. … To give 50 percent, 40 percent, that does nothing. There is a saying that we should leave a better country to our children. But it’s more important to leave better children to our country.

His comment was in relation to the “Giving Pledge” promoted by Bill and Melinda Gates (that those with loads of money should give away half). Carlos has given a considerable amount already to the Gates Foundation. This was reported in the Wall Street Journal after Carlos’ comments in Sydney recently, and commented as a post on the blog Good by Patrick James.

I don’t think it is a simple as saying he is right or wrong, or that rich people should give more because they have more to give. Ethically, can we determine how someone should use their discretionary money any more than we should with each of our time (the one resource we all have in common).

Personally, I disagree with the proposition. We have confused the word ‘charity’ which is supposed to be a verb meaning to help others with its more contemporary use as a noun defining an organisational status. “A charity” doesn’t solve anything. People do. And how do people do this? Through charity. By being charitable, by showing love to others less fortunate than themselves. This is the only way to change the world.

Money is just a means to an end.

Is it worth making a profound difference in a small pond?

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World map of the Global Peace Index 2008. Coun...
World Map- Global Peace Index 2008. Green indicates more peaceful


Last weekend was spent with my colleagues of the last 18 months benefiting from the inspiring facilitation of Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre on a wrap-up ‘integrity weekend’. The weekend was the culmination of our previous involvement as Fellows of the Vincent Fairfax Fellowship (an 18 month program to increase the capacity for ethical deliberation among selected leaders towards a good society).
The key take-away message for me was a question from a broader conversation that unfolded on the weekend:

Is it worth making a profound difference in a small pond?

A powerful question when combined with a comment from Steve Killelea earlier last week from the Institute for Economics and Peace who is responsible for the Global peace Index. Steve’s comment was about closing the gap of “emotional distance” by which people are removed from each other. His argument was that by closing this gap, we reduce the likelihood of stereotypes emerging.
What has this to do with small ponds and profound differences? And does this have anything to do with extreme poverty?
Consider that the phenomenon of deliberately connecting with other people who you don’t know has the potential to lead to all sorts of favourable unintended consequences. Profound differences.
I contend that maybe we ought to focus our energy and attention into the small ponds where we find ourselves. The connectivity of the World 2.0 should pick this up to enable it to flourish. Of course, that on its own is neither a strategy nor a coherent pathway forward for action.
The 10 City Bridge Run aims to raise the awareness of an individual’s capacity to act to influence extreme poverty. This for most of us will occur in each of our own little small ponds working with others. Joined up, this gives promise to profound differences. The mega-global campaign of which there are many have their place, but they can’t solve the problem. Neither can government or business on its own. Somewhere in the journey, people need to be engaged and involved.
Check back in to this blog to hear my thoughts on how this might be achieved.