I mentioned in my last entry here that I had become infected with a serious disease, and that I was certainly not resting very comfortably during this holiday season. The infection has been an attack on my conscience, my sense of justice, my very soul, as I come to terms to with the utter shame that we have brought upon ourselves in the face of a pandemic that grips our world. it’s not the swine flu. It’s hunger and starvation. In the ninety minutes during which I sat at Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday, more than 1,500 people around the world died of hunger or hunger-related disease. Preventable. Stoppable. Shameful.
So in my fever I try to imagine what to do, how to get my arms around this infection that won’t leave me alone, how to know how I should act. Do I ignore the symptoms and hope that they go away? Should I be asking for some magic pill? Is this something my chiropractor or some other doctor can fix? More likely, is there some sort of home remedy? These questions lead me to this blog entry and those to follow in the days to come. In search of answers for my own disease, I wonder what others would do? And so I have decided to pose the question in hopes of obtaining real answers or, at least, spurring your own thinking sufficiently to inoculate you against the worst of the infection’s symptoms: apathy. I hope you can help me get better.
What if the world was much smaller than it is today, and that the entire population numbered only 100? This is one of the questions raised by the anti-poverty organization, One. It has compiled some interesting statistics about our imaginary world demographics. For instance, of our one-hundred people, eighty would live in substandard housing. Fifty would be malnourished. Thirty-three would have no access to safe water. Thirty-three would be living on only 3% of the total wealth of the world; five people would control 33% of it. One person would have AIDS. And one of us would be dying from starvation.
In such a world, the chances are pretty good that you know each and every member of it. (Think of your current circle of friends and acquaintances; it’s probably greater than a hundred people.) And with such a familiarity, the face of that starving individual is known to you. The individual is known to you. You see all that he/she is, all that he/she can be. And you experience his/her pain because he/she is one of you. So here is the first of my questions: what would you be willing to do?
It’s not a philosophical or theoretical question. It’s life-and-death in the moment even if we choose not to see it. We are collectively insulated from much of the world’s hunger because it is buried in statistics that have no names or faces. But when we are forced to confront it in the face of a friend or family member, hunger takes on a much different meaning: there is almost nothing we would not do to feed a starving friend; you know that you have sufficient food for both of you.
In reality, of course, the world is far bigger than one hundred souls. But then, the world’s resources are more plentiful than in our fictional example, too. In both cases, the resources are sufficient to feed the hungry, and therein lies the shame. How do the remaining ninety-nine survivors in our example look at one another in the eye after one of us has died without cause, within our capacity to have helped?
My own exposure to this disease has been heightened by numerous visits to a very unhealthy place, Nicaragua. But the main threat from disease there is not malaria or dengue fever. It’s the disquieting realization that hunger is taking the energy and life from people without cause. Some are people I have been getting to know. That’s a disease which can create irreparable harm to one’s heart….
It’s a very real question worth pondering, especially during this season of thanks and giving: what would you do?