Poverty and me…

25 08 2008
  1. My young economist colleague told me moments ago that there is no poverty in our peaceful country. Obviously, the Abode of Peace is a world-renowned oil rich nation so the poorest of souls should not have existed.
  2. So define what poverty means? Simplest definition: The state of being poor.
  3. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty) has a quite comprehensive and bit more detailed description of poverty. The endless arguments and debates about the subject matter will never cease.
  4. I personally look at myself as in the state of being poor. I still am forever thankful for all that I have now and could have ever asked for from the Lord of the Universe.
  5. Many more people around the world are enduring much worst sufferings than me.
  6. As poverty-stricken that I think I am, I could still bring food on the table for my family.
  7. I certainly lack knowledge apart from lacking in all desired luxuries that life has to offer generally. This lack of knowledge is the worst form of poverty I can think of, really.
  8. Knowledge is power. With power comes wealth, naturally. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.
  9. Where am I going with this cliched poor writing of mine? Nowhere, for sure. I am merely going in circles in trying to reach my own consensus of poorness where and when it matters most.

 One of the global billionnaires, Bill Gates, has his own brilliant take on the subject of ‘inequity’: “If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world. This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world.

I am optimistic that we can do this, but I talk to skeptics who claim there is no hope. They say: “Inequity has been with us since the beginning, and will be with us till the end – because people just … don’t … care.” I completely disagree.

I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with.

All of us here in this Yard, at one time or another, have seen human tragedies that broke our hearts, and yet we did nothing – not because we didn’t care, but because we didn’t know what to do. If we had known how to help, we would have acted.

The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.

To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact. But complexity blocks all three steps.

Even with the advent of the Internet and 24-hour news, it is still a complex enterprise to get people to truly see the problems. When an airplane crashes, officials immediately call a press conference. They promise to investigate, determine the cause, and prevent similar crashes in the future.

But if the officials were brutally honest, they would say: “Of all the people in the world who died today from preventable causes, one half of one percent of them were on this plane. We’re determined to do everything possible to solve the problem that took the lives of the one half of one percent.”

The bigger problem is not the plane crash, but the millions of preventable deaths.

We don’t read much about these deaths. The media covers what’s new – and millions of people dying is nothing new. So it stays in the background, where it’s easier to ignore. But even when we do see it or read about it, it’s difficult to keep our eyes on the problem. It’s hard to look at suffering if the situation is so complex that we don’t know how to help. And so we look away.

If we can really see a problem, which is the first step, we come to the second step: cutting through the complexity to find a solution.

Finding solutions is essential if we want to make the most of our caring. If we have clear and proven answers anytime an organization or individual asks “How can I help?,” then we can get action – and we can make sure that none of the caring in the world is wasted. But complexity makes it hard to mark a path of action for everyone who cares — and that makes it hard for their caring to matter. “

Extract of Speech by Microsoft Founder, Bill Gates

(Harvard Commencement, June 7, 2007)

Coming from the man with the heart of gold, Mr Gates does care! And so do we care, too, don’t we?

Although I am resigned to the fact that some of us are meant to be born wealthy and most of us (including yours truly) are meant to live in poverty, there is no stopping all of us from caring about others’ well being and helping them to live the good life – richly or poorly. What differentiates us all is what is deep in each of our own hearts. The richness in the heart is the one thing that will determine the real wealth of any human being… 🙂

I think one way to experience how the poor and the needy would feel whenever they are starving is if one were to try fasting like how we Muslims refrain ourselves from taking food and drinks from dawn until dusk during the Islamic Fasting month of Ramadan.

It can be surreal but at least fasting teaches us to appreciate those who are faced with poverty, starvation and malnutrition. Personally, it is a learning experience for me and the knowledge gained can be awesome!

Such experience will then lead us to go a step further by opening our hearts to give something back to the poor and the needy – be it in the form of cash or in kind… The rich should really part with 2.5 percent of their annual income to help eradicate poverty in this world. In Islam, it is called “Zakat” or the Tithe, which is one of the Five obligatory duties of every Muslim.