January last year, I sat down in Tom Shadyac´s class at Pepperdine after my friends couldn´t stop raving about the film producer / philosopher who showed up year after year to impart some wisdom to us college kids. The first class he told us a story (excuse my paraphasing) about a pair of glasses. This was a special pair of glasses, because you could read 10x as fast.
Imagine! How much knowledge you would gain, how much smarter and better off the world would be because of it. As the product got more popular, more and more people started using the glasses, and a few people ended up dying, but think about it! You could read 10x faster and there was only a .001% chance of getting injured by the glases. The wider the glasses spread, more people were killed, but the sacrifice seemed worth the knowledge gained through the glasses. At the end of the story, he said… seems a little ridiculous right? But, I just told you the story of the car. The trade off millions of lives for an increase in speed.
He went on to say that the class would be about rethinking things (this particular class was by far my favorite of college) … about putting a new perspective on things that seem “good” and “normal”.
So, right now I´m rethinking charity. I imagining the parable of the Good Samaritan and remembering the 10 people in destitute poverty begging for coins on my route to work. And how I am of those that merely pass by. And I find most Christians saying the same, “They will just spend it on booze and drugs” as an excuse not to give or help?
I wonder, are we called to give discriminately? And should I be giving to those in need because they need it? That´s is why I was in love with microfinance at first, it seemed like the solution to this. I KNEW that the money was enabling the poor to have a better life and I knew that the money wasn´t creating a downward cycle of expectations. (Based on the assumption that the more people in poverty receive without doing anything, the more they rely on “aid” instead of their own efforts).
But I´m no longer sure that microfinance, alone, is the solution (I still fully believe in how Kiva connects individuals to individuals through lending). I think escaping poverty takes time. I think microfinance can play a role. BUT I know that it is microfinance coupled with EDUCATION and PERSONAL ATTENTION that will make the difference. (The negatives of pushing loan products without either of these is apparent in India as a wave of suicides broke out from microloan overindebtedness).
This doesn´t mean that all microfinance and charity is bad. Yes, it needs to be regulated and monitored. Yes, it needs to be administered with care for the individual and coupled with education. I perpetually encourage and support people who are “doing their part” however small because of my own belief that changing at least one person´s life is better than changing none at all. Rethinking microfinance means rethinking how we give. So maybe we should help those that we encounter every day… knowing full well who our money is helping.
What do you guys think is the solution? What should charity be… and how should we give?