Global Poverty – An obligation to care?

Let’s face it. School is difficult, family relationships are difficult, romantic relationships are difficult, and above all, trying to navigate the treacherous and nebulous path called life is difficult. More often than not, we have our heads barely above the water, wondering if anything that we do really even matters. Even during our few, truly happy moments the numbing weight of reality beckons, slowly sapping even the remnants of the little joys in life that had sustained us.

I sincerely hope that no one reading this is in fact in the above situation. But it is reality, and sometimes we just find ourselves in the dark place. And speaking from personal experience, it certainly requires a Promethean effort to get back on our feet again.

But even considering a more moderate situation of trying to deal with the daily hubbub of our life obligations, we college students are stretched far too thin. We even struggle to find the time to grab a cup of coffee with our friends. Could we even care about whatever happens beyond our sphere of close relations? Given our current predicament, isn’t anything beyond caring for our close ones supererogatory?

Perhaps we can engage in a philosophical discourse regarding our ethical obligations towards the global community. We can stake out with claims of utilitarianism, or add in a flavor of cosmopolitanism, then counter it with nationalism, then eke out some Rawlsian Law of the Peoples and so on. While some people may find this conversation to be more thrilling than an Alfred Hitchcock flick, frankly, (basically) no one gives a crap.

What is more important than the impersonal “-isms” of philosophy to mere mortals likes us is how our interaction with global poverty makes us feel, or more broadly speaking, how our interaction with poverty at large make us feel. Does the panhandler in front of McDonald’s make us feel squeamish? Why can’t he get a real job? No matter how much the morally superior and the saints among us try to inspire us to help out the poor in consideration of the imbalanced socioeconomic structure and our glaringly privileged status, I am the first one to admit that it is extremely difficult to internalize the knowledge and donate a dollar only for the panhandler to buy a pack of smokes at CVS.

But we don’t have to be guilt-tripped or preached into carrying the obligation towards global poverty. We should act as if we have an obligation towards global poverty because we are selfish. Because we feel so detached from the rest of the world that we are desperately looking for ways to plug ourselves back in. Because we are gasping for breath and watching others smile from our help is a breath of fresh air. We should embrace our privilege; we should acknowledge our entitlement for what its worth not because we deserve it, but because we don’t need to hear anymore lies that promote self-hatred.

And we will give selfishly with all the pomp and circumstance until we realize that it is not the world that needs us, but us that need the world.

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