A number of years ago, my friend John recommended the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It tells the story of Paul Farmer who, as a Harvard Medical School student, travels to Haiti to treat people with Tuberculosis. It’s a fabulous book, and I highly recommend it. The book describes a struggle Paul Farmer faces, as he sees patient after patient after patient. It’s a struggle of resources. He wrestles with the idea of just treating the patients as they come to him, knowing that if that is all he does, he will help individuals with TB, but won’t do anything to eradicate TB from the planet. However, if he spends his time and energy trying to eradicate TB from the planet, then some of the people who would come to him for treatment will die instead.
This book has offered great debate material for me, my friend John, and others who have read it. Resources. How do you use them? Should you help the person in front of you, or possibly sacrifice that opportunity to help an individual because you are focused on working for the cause (whatever that cause may be) which will help a group of people?
My natural inclination has always been to help the person in front of me. What do you do?
I’ve seen and said things to the effect that if each person helps one other person, then everything would be okay. But would it? Or would systems which are weighted in the favor of a few just perpetuate the need for one person to always help another person? But should we all step over those in need in order to change systems that are placing them in that situation to begin with?
This dilemma is why John and I don’t get tired of this discussion.
I don’t have a neat and tidy solution, just a suggestion. Let your life matter each day. Whether one person is a little better off because of you, or a group of people are a little closer to getting what they need because of the work you are doing, let your life matter.
Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr claims that the greatest sin in America is superficiality. There are some I put above that, but I believe that superficiality ranks high enough that it clouds our vision of what matters. It keeps the needs of the world at arm’s length, and prevents us from entering into a life of meaning.
Think about it. Do you care about half the stuff you see on-line? Seriously, yesterday I posted a video of the sound effects guy from the “Police Academy” movies singing Led Zeppelin on a talk show! How sad is that? I’ll tell you how sad it is. It’s about as sad as the fact that half of you reading this just stopped to google: Sound effects guy from Police Academy Led Zeppelin.
Let your life matter. Help one person. Help a million. But don’t let the garbage of the day cloud your vision. Don’t let the most important thing you read today be about how Princess Kate is doing juggling two kids. I think she’ll be okay.
One thought on “The Constant Struggle”
This has always been an interesting conundrum and, like you, my natural inclination is to help the person in front of me. I would “like” to believe, even though I intuitively know this to be incorrect, that if each person helped another person, then over time the system itself would naturally change. It also leads up to the dilemma that Paul Farmer faced regarding what matters the most. Would his life matter more if he eradicated TB? I don’t know that answer, but I DO know that his life mattered to those individual patients that he kept from dying.
Several years ago, a friend of mine and I had a similar, though not life-threatening, situation. The immigration system in this country is broken – I do not think that there is any debate on this. An immigrant friend of ours had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge. Because he did not really understand the legal system here, he pleaded “no contest” and later discovered that he was facing deportation which would have destroyed his family here. His attorney, an immigration specialist, told him that he had no chance. We refused to believe that and finally found someone that pointed us in the right direction. The end result was that we were able to get the original misdemeanor conviction reversed. Our friend was released from jail and he is now a US citizen. Did we really “matter” in fixing the immigration system? Absolutely not. But I would like to believe that we sure as heck mattered to our friend when he needed help and had none!
So, I agree that it is not a score card about whether our lives matter the “most” – just that our lives matter!!
Regarding superficiality being the greatest sin in America, I really do not believe that is an American sin but rather a sin of humanity. Everyone, everywhere (and unfortunately that includes me), has the tendency to ‘judge a book by its cover’. Maybe the sin here is to not recognize that for what it is and work to overcome it.
Sorry for rambling a bit.