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?