30 October 2011

Who can mind her own business?

I am so grateful for my friend Chelsea who shared the NYTimes article Seven Billion on her blog. And, because it is amazing and I just can't help myself, I am going to write about a few thoughts I have too.

The article (and some awesome videos from National Geographic which I will put at the end of the post) talks about what it means to live in a world with 7 billion+ people. It asks if the earth can support our ever growing numbers; it asks what will happen as our populations shift--as a whole we are become older, more urban and our population centers are shifting from the "west" to China, India and Africa; and as our lifestyles change and more and more people in the world are living like those of us in the United States and Europe (i.e. using more resources on a daily basis than many people in the world use over years or, in some cases, lifetimes). Obviously, we don't know exactly what will happen in the next 10, 20, 50 years. We don't know how things will change, but we know change will happen. And as I see it, in large measure the future is in our hands. It is up to us what tomorrow will look like. We have choices to make that will determine the future of this planet and the people who live here. And many of those choices have to do with our daily lives.

The article concludes with these paragraphs on our future and our priorities:

Is economic development the best contraception? Or is voluntary contraception the best form of development? Does the world need a bigger pie (more productive technologies) or fewer forks (slower population growth through voluntary contraception) or better manners (fewer inequities, less violence and corruption, freer trade and mobility, more rule of law, less material-intensive consumption)? Or is education of better quality and greater availability a key ingredient of all other strategies?

All these approaches have value. However much we would like one, there is no panacea, though some priorities are clear: voluntary contraception and support services, universal primary and secondary education, and food for pregnant and lactating mothers and children under 5.

These priorities are mutually reinforcing, and they are affordable. Providing modern family planning methods to all people with unmet needs would cost about $6.7 billion a year, slightly less than the $6.9 billion Americans are expected to spend for Halloween this year. By one estimate, achieving universal primary and secondary education by 2015 would cost anywhere from $35 billion to $70 billion in additional spending per year.

IF we spend our wealth — our material, environmental, human and financial capital — faster than we increase it by savings and investment, we will shift the costs of the prosperity that some enjoy today onto future generations. The mismatch between the short-term incentives that guide our political and economic institutions and even our families, on one hand, and our long-term aspirations, on the other, is severe.

We must increase the probability that every child born will be wanted and well cared for and have decent prospects for a good life. We must conserve more, and more wisely use, the energy, water, land, materials and biological diversity with which we are blessed.

Henceforth we need to measure our growth in prosperity: not by the sheer number of people who inhabit the earth, and not by flawed measurements like G.D.P., but by how well we satisfy basic human needs; by how well we foster dignity, creativity, community and cooperation; by how well we care for our biological and physical environment, our only home.

With all of that said, here is what I think:

First of all, I think it is a blessing to live in a world where our lives are inescapably connected--if we recognize that fact. Because, among my beliefs about human beings are these two things:
1) people are basically good and everyone is capable of doing something that will benefit the world; and...

2) we are innately self-centered and naturally less aware of those around us than we are of ourselves (and perhaps our family member or those who we are very close to).
So, even though we have the potential to help others and do great things in the world, often we don't even recognize the problems of others, or if we do we don't see a connection between these issues our own lives and the ways in which we can influence those problems. However, the growing awareness that we live in a global community where the welfare of people across the world will have an impact on the way I live and vice versa can be, I believe, a powerful motivation for all of us to look beyond ourselves and our immediate situation to see how we fit into the bigger picture; what we can each contribute. This knowledge that in a world of 7 billion people and counting, we cannot live with affecting and being affected by the rest of those 7 billion helps us step outside of our natural "personal bubble," which in turn, will allow us to use the goodness we inherently have to influence the world in spectacular ways. If we so choose.

And that isn't just speculation. There are people all over the world who have opened their eyes to the problems around them and have done astonishing things, often with few resources and little expertise. Their main qualitification: love. A qualification available to each and every one of of us. There is nothing more powerful or more sacred than love. Pure love.

"The highest, noblest, strongest king of love"
"Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Wherefore, my beloved bretheren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail--
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Wherefore, my beloved bretheren, pray unto the Father with all energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen."

As a member of the human family, a creature on this earth and a recipient of uncountable blessings, charity is my ultimate and immediate goal. It is my belief that, whatever else we do here on earth, the main purpose of our time here is to learn what it means to truly love others-- to be like, and love like, Christ, whose life and atonement is, for me, the ultimate demonstration of charity.

And charity comes in more forms that we recognize, and can come from anywhere and anyone. When we talk about our place in a world of 7 billion people, charity means knowing that every time I am wasteful with my resources I am harming someone else. It means mindfulness. It means acting consciously and carefully. It means thinking not only about the immediate consequences of my actions, but also the long-term results. It means remembering those 7 billion people and seeing them as equally important, dignified and deserving as myself. And as such, recognizing that quality of human lives is what I am weighing against convenience, economics and effort. Every day. In every choice.

None of us are perfect. Especially me. And I know that I am constantly making wrong choices. I forget about or ignore the fact that what I do matters very much. How I use my resources, talents and time can be a matter of life or death for another human being or another creature on this planet. And the truth is, I can and must do better. As a human community we have much room for improvement.

Yet, what a hopeful thing it is to know that there are 7 billion of us here on this earth--I cannot even begin to comprehend our collective potential. But that is what we must do: recognize and take advantage of our connectedness. Only by working together, pooling our resources and finding solutions that are good for everyone can we create a better world; one which can adequately support all of us in a manner worthy of a human life.

1 comment:

Chelsea said...

I'm so glad you reposted and expanded! Thank you for your insight and hope :)