good hearted development

Thoughts on good-hearted: helping

I don’t know if it’s universal. But I have a bone to pick with the so called good-hearted people. Being kind and modest became a norm and a virtue in our society, as if it is the default set of proper human being. However, the rosy and lousy expectation that kindness is the superior of all qualities is just wrong.

I work in a development NGO whose goal is to raise the living standard of the community. More than a few people automatically make speculations that those who “devote” themselves to work for the poor in the third world must be all angels. Okay, that’s fine. The real problem is not those who expect the goodness of human nature; obviously all they know is as little as just the economic geography. Instead, the problem is those who try to meet the expectation. Those who see themselves as little Mother Theresa.

There is no harm in wanting to become a good person. But Africa is not where you try to become a good person. It’s not a practice ground. Instead, you want to be good at work. Make results. Achieve goals. See the change. And see if you made the right change. If being a good person means offering things out of sympathy – or guilt – that’s just hopeless.  We’ve learned a hard lesson from the previous aid outcomes. Why repeat them.

I’ve met a nice lady who doesn’t mind sacrificing herself for “the poor”. She gets lots of personal donations from her church crowds. One day, she saw young children walking without shoes in the village. Deeply disturbed by the scenery, she suggested to build a shoe factory in the village so that villagers get shoes and also a job! Unfortunately for her, the factory plan didn’t work out because there was no electricity in that village. Her plan would have worked in the world where factory runs only with electricity and no other real world factors such as market and strategy.

Why is there so much freedom in helping others, while harming others get lots of restrictions.

It’s hard to know if someone is actually helping or harming by doing things based on their belief. If that belief is kindness or sympathy, then they are just ruling out all the other factors that could change the result. Changing someone’s life or community environment in extent, is not a small thing. It’s a big deal and it’s complicated. But if all help is based on one’s belief, then it’s gambling. The consequence of gambling is not always welcoming. Helping is never easy. And it’s especially difficult when it’s done entirely by one’s guts or prejudice, so to speak. And it’s condescending.

Stop waving your hand like you deserve attention.

Sometimes it’s hard to ignore children waving their hands towards you. They can be curious about you. But it doesn’t mean everyone with darker skin expects your attention. It also doesn’t mean you’re being liked by those who stare at you. Are you that social in your own country? Otherwise stop doing that. It’s condescending.

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An anthropology novice with passion for small things. A development worker in a world of imponderabilia.

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