For those of us old enough to remember, when our proxies landed on the Moon it felt as though a little bit of us was there with them. And I not infrequently hear people talk of some scientific discovery as something "we" have learned. I don't object at all--they pay us to explore on their behalf and I'm glad for the opportunity. But what here is a harmless expression of solidarity seems more like an excuse for not committing elsewhere.
OK, Louis XIV said that "it is the last piece of gold that wins" a war, but there's still no equivalence in effort between giving up new shoes to provide that last piece of gold and marching out to get shot at.
Rachel Jones said about caring people:
"A significant challenge for nonprofits and ministries remains recruiting people who will commit to serve long-term outside the United States."
"I know there are a plethora of good reasons that concerned American Christians can't just uproot and leave the States, from family to health to finances. I know I simplify. But I have a theory about what is partly contributing to the dearth of young Americans willing to spend their lives on behalf of others."
"They think they already are."
Minor financial adjustments such as buying fair trade coffee, and writing letters about safe working conditions at supplier factories are considered "being part of the fight": Words, and relatively painless giving will do the job. Maybe changes in fashion and minor financial pressures will translate into big social changes somewhere across the world. Maybe. We should do what good we can. But I think Jones may be right that we delude ourselves into thinking we're doing something important for the poor when most of us aren't. I'm not doing anything important. We give to a few charities and the church, and now and then I split half a sandwich with one of the beggars at the capitol square, but that doesn't make me one of the "poverty fighters." It isn't much help at all.
I'm starting to converge on a theory that helping the homeless is more a matter of relationships: community to individual, with expectations and a completely new environment. Change in the hat is symbolic at best, but if we think we're "fighting poverty" we may be satisfied with that. More thought and research needed... First approximation model for caring for the homeless looked like "spending a couple of months in a monastery", which isn't very practical.
We're pretty good at befuddling ourselves with words. Back in the early 70's a member of a Dutch squatter group proudly announced that he was a productive member of society: he kept tabs on police malfeasance (as defined by him). Maybe the role is necessary (though given the benign reputation of the Dutch police I suspect he was deluding himself), but it isn't productive. We probably all saw the full-page ad in which Cindy Crawford told us she was fighting some disease or another just by posing there. (I can't find the image.) Who knew disease research was that easy?
Not all of us, or perhaps even many of us, are called to dramatic work. If we tell ourselves that we're heroes for buying more expensive coffee it can't make it easier to hear the call to do something serious.
"Dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good"