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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2011 - Time to be a Hero?

To begin the New Year on the right foot, how about participating in a simple imaginative exercise.

First, imagine that you are taking your morning walk, a stroll through a meadow behind your house. You are approaching a shallow pool of water, a trough that sometimes fills with rain. To your horror, you see that an infant is struggling in the pool, about to drown.
What do you do next?

You are probably wondering why I would even ask. Of course the answer is simple. You are going to lift this baby out of the water. Fine.

Next, I want you to imagine that the same baby is drowning in another pool of water, but the pool is located thousands of miles away. Perhaps you can see this happening on a television screen, or perhaps you have simply been told that it is happening by somebody reputable. Even though you can’t use your physical arms to lift up the child, you could do something just about as strenuous, like pushing a button or speaking a command, to initiate the rescue. Do you do it?

Are you doing it?

This exercise comes from a moral philosopher’s work on compassion and aid, in a 1971 essay titled “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”. The philosopher famously asserted that failing to devote a greater portion of Western wealth to the cause of ending poverty was equivalent to opting out of rescuing a drowning child.

Why?

Because giving a small portion of our wealth is easy- as easy as pausing in your morning walk to rescue a child.

Because, contrary to a lot of bad press that charitable aid has received, making intelligent investments into anti-poverty solutions is effective- as effective as lifting that child out of shallow water.

If nothing else, it’s something to chew on, when you are considering how much you are willing to do for the poor this year.

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