| This article is about poverty. No, I will not dwell on statistics such as the fact that 1/3 of all human deaths are caused by poverty, or that 50,000 people die everyday, of which 34,000 are children under the age of five. These statistics are however, unfortunately true. What I want to do here is share a bit of my thoughts about the issue of poverty and a bit of philosophical reflection regarding what sort of obligation the relatively rich people like us have towards the poor.
You see, for the past year or so I’ve been thinking a lot about how fortunate I am. I’ve been brought up in an upper-middle class family and our family never really had any great want. We did not live extravagantly, yet we never had to struggle either. It had never occurred to me how blessed I was until the past 5 years.
I can recall very vividly how at the end of 1998, some friends and I traveled to America. At Union Square, one of America’s major shopping hubs in San Francisco, I was overwhelmed to see so many beggars. While my friends did their shopping, I decided to spend my few days with these folks. After all, I was never a great shopper, and the situation these beggars were in greatly intrigued me. Indeed, as one grows up and gets to know more about the world, one realizes that the city or even country they live in is but only a small part of this world. There are wars constantly going on elsewhere. There is great suffering and poverty out there.
Two years ago, I started seriously questioning the way I lived. At one stage, I even started questioning whether I should be studying at all; rather than say, saving the money on my studies, giving it to the poor and making better use of my time to help those much less fortunate than me. No, it’s not that I don’t believe in the value of education. It’s just that for that moment - and moments that still regularly dawn upon me - I asked myself what the hell I’m doing living such a comfortable life, while thousands die daily due to poverty. How selfish can I be to ignore their plight and not give much of a damn about their fate?
Sure, education is important. Very important. For one thing, getting a good education would mean getting a good job; which means you’re on your way to a stable life. Getting married would be good; having kids too: maybe a nice car, big house, entertainment, leisure, holidays…etc. All of these things are important. A future without them would mean an unsuccessful life to many.
Sure, I’d love all of these. Therefore, I am not saying that education is unimportant, nor discounting the importance of attaining the above things. All I am trying to say is: what is certainly more important than any of the above is to be able to live. And if I could sacrifice any of the above things so that others will have a chance to live, I think I should do that. It’s only selfishness that makes me think solely about myself and not of others.
The way I see it, if we could help save the lives of people dying of poverty-related causes through giving our money to credible aid agencies such as UNICEF or World Vision, we should do it - especially if it doesn’t take much out of us. After all, those 50,000 people who die daily, die because they can’t even meet their basic needs. For us who can easily do that, and are further able to spend our money on luxurious items, shouldn’t we think about sacrificing some of our comfort so that more people can live? Or to put into question-form a famous saying: Shouldn’t we (the rich) live more simply, so that the poor may simply live?
The logic seemed impeccable to me. The moment I started to realize that I could save lives through spending less on unnecessary things and giving more to aid organizations, that moment I started to think twice about how I spent my money. Should I eat at this restaurant tonight? Should I buy this electronic product? Should I even go on this expensive trip this holiday? After all, if I do none of the above and contribute the money instead, I would probably be able to save lives. And what’s a single life saved from death compared to the enjoyment of a good dinner, an electronic product or a few days of holidaying? Surely, I ought to think about saving lives than merely spending on short-term pleasures for a life is worth much more than all these pleasures.
Let’s be a bit more specific here. After having consulted with aid organization experts and done some calculation, American philosopher Peter Unger (author of the book “Living High and Letting Die”, a really meaningful title I might add) came up with US$200 as the estimated amount of money – including all administrative and delivery of aid costs – needed to transform an ill 2-year-old into a healthy 6-year-old. US$200 is roughly equivalent to S$350. This figure is of course a rough estimate but as a guide it will do. From now on, perhaps we should all think twice about how we spend our money. That is, if you were contemplating buying that brand new Apple iPod worth over S$500, you now know that you could probably save the life of one child if you give that money to a good aid organization instead.
You must be logged in to add tags.
This user has not written anything in his panorama profile yet.
You must be a TakingITGlobal member to post a comment. Sign up
for free or login