I heard an interview on the radio recently.
The woman was a scriptwriter or a playwright (not sure which, maybe both) who had recently written a story about life in impoverished American ghettoes. She talked some about the genesis of her new work, and she talked some about the characters and the story itself. She talked even more about the realities of life in America's impoverished inner cities.
I was, of course, interested. She was talking about where I live, and what I care about. We live in a neighborhood where most kids grow up seeing violence, addiction, and illegal activity as normal parts of everyday life. Our neighborhood is improving, but you can still find needles on the ground in front of the school, you can still see the prostitutes walking the main thoroughfare, there are still young men standing at the corners making more money in an afternoon than a roofing job pays in a week, and you can still hear gunshots in the night.
Then she began to talk about why she wrote it and what she hoped it might accomplish.
"I hope it will motivate people to do something, give some money, change how you vote, just DO SOMETHING."
I was a little frustrated. In her defense, she is a playwright; an artist, not an activist, or an advocate, or even a scholar, but I would have hoped for a more educated response than this. Throwing money at our problems, and giving power to professional blowhards (regardless of their political stripes), will never serve to accomplish anything helpful. In point of fact, one of the largest contributing factors to the perpetuation of American poverty is precisely our unreflective need to just do something.
Helping the less fortunate by giving money and voting for certain politicians is actually an abdication of our personal responsibility to engage in helping our fellow man. Not to mention it's counter productive. Don't get me wrong, throwing money and votes around works well if our goal is to make ourselves feel better, it just doesn't change anything for those in need. Indeed free money is often the reason why better solutions fail.
What is needed is personal engagement. Instead of throwing money at the latest cause, while simultaneously climbing up the social ladder, try climbing down the ladder instead.