Instead at 3:15am, my mother was politely informed of the occasion by a soft knock on her bedroom door, and for a time before my parents regained their senses and began the hurried trip to the hospital, the earth stood still. The following day over email my mother detailed the experience of the night in the most expressive way that I would fall short relating. Her point, however, was simple: we have a lot to learn from people like Evelyn and we must approach this learning with as much humility as we are capable of.
Credits: Wikipedia Credits: Wikipedia
To qualify the phrase “people like Evelyn”, it should suffice to point out that Zambia is a small, landlocked country in sub-Saharan Africa with distressing development indicators (poverty, education, prevalence of disease, etc.). Evelyn was, at the time, what would best be described as a migrant worker, the single head of a three person household, and very pregnant.
Economist Paul Collier refers to the global poor as the bottom billion, that segment of the world population that “co-exists with the twenty-first century…but lives and dies in fourteenth-century conditions.” That is undeniably one aspect. However, within this reality also exists another: Zambians are some of the most patient, hard-working, generous, and humble people I know – in a word, temperate.
In using the example of Zambians, I realize I run the risk of romanticizing a people caught in vastly complex socio-political and economic traps –perhaps hopelessness is the real culprit. Even so, there is something of value to be learned. There exists in the Hindu scriptural calendar the idea that we are presently in the Age of Kali, or kalyug, a dark period marked by a widespread degeneration of human morality. Buy into the idea or not, it is arguably an apt metaphor for our times. For decades if not longer we have seen little progress under the banner of development. We continue to live in an increasingly unequal world even as we possess more than ever the capacity to address these persistent inequalities. The more recent human-centered approach advocated for by the likes of Jeffrey Sachs and Amartya Sen undoubtedly has positioned the debate in the right direction. Still, little importance is given to the concepts of civic responsibility and global citizenry as a means to global development. Even less attention has been paid to what some would describe as “the institutions of the non-poor…that preordain poverty for millions of people around the world”.
Therein lies the rub. The power of the individual, today and here in a democratic free nation, cannot be underrated. This has significant bearing upon development. While the individual philanthropic efforts of Americans are unequaled, American greed is too. I don’t intend to demonize corporate America nor the average American – indeed I believe in economic growth-led development – but in the absence of a global agreement or national strategy towards development, the onus is on us to rethink our ways of living, and specifically, of consumption. A dollar saved here goes a long way in Zambia. This is a perspective we can all agree to adopt. If we cannot donate, we can make other relevant contributions. Importantly, we can urge our policymakers to rethink global development as a national priority. We can educate ourselves through meaningful engagement with other communities and cultures – sometimes all this requires is crossing the street. In our increasingly connected world, the real problems are never too far away – indeed we probably created them. Thus we should view ourselves not as insular communities but as stewards of a global whole.
I urge you to consider how the dual metaphors apply to you, the reader, the worker, the taxpayer, the contributor, the consumer, the global citizen – and encourage you to think of them not as discrete concepts so much as a continuum. Espouse the Goddess of Temperance as a patron saint. It is not merely a shift in attitude – though that is a prerequisite – but a call to action that will lift us away and out of the proverbial Dark Age and into an era of balance and equity.