Do Good Better


A recent cover story in the Economist heralded the possible end of extreme poverty. It got me thinking about a world without poverty, a world without poor people. This prospect is definitely a cause for celebration. Yet, is this prospect also a cause for at least a bit of consternation? Surprisingly, yes. A lot of us need poor people. Our children need poor people. Here are just a few of the reasons I could think of:

  • Without someone to ladle soup for, how will we teach our children about gratitude?
  • Without a family to adopt during the holidays, how will we assuage our guilt for having it so good?
  • Without community service opportunities, how will teenagers pad their college applications?
  • Without someone to build homes for, what alternative would college students choose over a raucous spring break?
  • Without someone to accept the stuff we do not want, how will we clean out our closets without adding to the landfill and get our tax deduction?
  • Without a community to randomize into treatment and non-treatment groups, how will we make progress on our research programs, get published and become tenured?
  • Without someone to save, how will we become a CNN Hero?
  • Without a village in dire need, how can we commit to make a difference in things that are largely out of our control and get invited to shake Bill Clinton’s hand?
  • Without service learning opportunities, how will we build purpose into our classroom curriculums?
  • Without someone to move out of poverty, what reason will world leaders have to convene conferences in exotic locations to solve a problem that they had a hand in creating?
  • Without someone to serve, how will we signal our moral superiority to family and friends at social gatherings?
  • Without someone to clothe, how will we market and sell poorly constructed yet overpriced shoes?
  • Without someone to feed, how will US farmers and shippers profit from food aid?
  • Without someone to advocate for, who will our politicians surround themselves with when they wish to redirect our attention away from a scandal?
  • Without a poor child of color to sit on their laps, how will celebrities reignite a career that is long in the tooth?
  • Without someone living in misery, how will social entrepreneurs make money and do good at the same time?
  • Without someone in Africa in need of life-saving treatment, how will we be able to go on a shopping spree at Gap and the Apple Store and feel like we are making a difference while doing it?
  • Without poor children of color to surround ourselves with, how will we get our poverty photo-op (see above)?

The purpose of this post is not to be snarky. It is not to be holier-than-thou by highlighting how others use poor people. A lot of the questions were motivated by my own personal and professional relationships with poverty and the poor. The purpose of this post is to get us thinking about:

  • The many motivations that lead us to want to do good
  • The many ways that we win when we attempt to do good

What questions would you add to the list?


Questions, comments or want to learn more? Just fill out the CONTACT form on my ABOUT page and I will get back with you right away. Thanks. – shawn