I have a message for you. Not the kind of message you leave on your friend’s voicemail because she is mad at you and has been screening her calls to avoid talking to you. I mean the kind of message that is basically a declaration of opinion delivered in a way that asks you to reassess your own perspective on the issue. That kind of message. The problem with those sorts of messages though is that nobody really wants to listen to them. No matter how eloquent the delivery it always ends up feeling like someone is forcing their opinion on you, and we as human beings don’t like that one little bit. So to share my message I decided to utilize a method that people have embraced for countless generations – that is, to tell a story about cute, fuzzy animals and cleverly hide the message as the moral of the story. Here we go.
Once upon a time there was an enchanted wood and because it was enchanted all the animals in this wood took on alarmingly human-like characteristics such as talking, cooking, wearing clothes, and complaining about shoddy cell phone service. In a big pine tree at the edge of the wood lived a family of raccoons. And by a family I mean a huge extended family – there was mother and father raccoon of course but also various aunts, uncles, cousins, children, step children, and in-laws. Just a ton of raccoons. Generally speaking, the raccoons did pretty well for themselves. They had all kinds of nifty skills like weaving, fishing, gardening, and they all could play a mean game of golf. In fact, the raccoons had more food, clothing, and other stuff than most of the animals in the wood. That isn’t to say that the raccoons were without their own problems. On the contrary, they had hard times too. Sometimes there wasn’t enough food for all of the raccoons and some of them went hungry. Sometimes a really bad storm blew through and damaged their pine tree. And for some reason they always seemed to be fighting with the badger across the way. So yeah, they had problems but in general life was good.
On the opposite end of the wood in an old oak tree covered in ivy lived an equally large family of possums. Things weren’t going quite so well for the possums. They never seemed to have enough food so the possum babies were really small and undernourished. Since they were undernourished they got sick easily and the sight of their little baby possum faces streaked with tears and possum snot would be enough to break the hardest heart.
Well one day Mother Raccoon, being the proactive animal she was and seeing how the possums suffered, decided she was going to do something to help the possum family. She sent some of her eager raccoon children over to the possums’ tree with bundles of food, blankets, clothes, and books. Not only did her little raccoon minions give those much needed gifts to the possum family but they went one step further and started helping the possums in other ways. The raccoons shared all their best gardening, weaving, fishing, and golf playing secrets with the possums. At the end of the day the little raccoons, pleased with what they had done, skipped merrily home with smiles on their faces.
As soon as they entered the pine tree however they were confronted by Uncle Raccoon, the mean and awkward one that nobody likes to talk about. “Why are you helping the possum family?” he demanded with a scowl. “Don’t you realize that we have our own problems? What about the hunger season? What about the damage to our tree? And you know we are still fighting that darn badger across the way! How dare you give away our precious resources to those possums! They aren’t raccoons! They aren’t even from around here! I heard they moved here from Cincinnati!” he snorted.
The little raccoon do-gooders sat in silence for a moment. Then the pluckiest of the bunch spoke up, “We are simply doing what we think is right. We saw the possums suffering horribly and we knew that we could help. We know we have our own problems to deal with but does that mean we should completely ignore the suffering of others? And if you are insinuating that we shouldn’t help the possums because they aren’t raccoons well that is just bigotry and a load of crap. We’re all mammals” (the little raccoon had a bit of a smart mouth on him).
The mean and awkward Uncle Raccoon was momentarily stunned into silence by the little raccoon’s boldness. After a brief hesitation and much grumbling he decided it was better to shuffle off to the kitchen and find something new to complain about, perhaps with a less vocal audience this time.
A few months went by and the raccoons all noticed that the possum family was doing much better. The food and clothing and other goods had helped immediately of course but the lessons on gardening, fishing, weaving, and golf had given them the skills they needed to improve their lives in the long run. Their children were growing big and strong and leaking significantly less possum snot. Mother Raccoon and her little ones were most pleased with the result. The End.
Cute story, yes? I like to think so. But more importantly, did you guess what my message was about? If you were too distracted by mental images of talking forest creatures to make abstract associations then here it is: the raccoon family represents the United States and the possum family represents the poverty stricken developing country of your choice. Any clearer now? And who, you may ask, is the grumpy Uncle Raccoon? He represents the alarmingly large and annoyingly vocal number of people who believe that the US shouldn’t offer aid to foreign countries because we have our own problems to deal with. Mind you, the analogy in my story isn’t perfect, but you get the picture.
So…that little story in itself is sort of my response to those who think we are stupid for helping other countries. Yes, I acknowledge that the US has quite a colorful variety of its own issues. Yes, I would like to see us resolve those issues. But no, I don’t think we should be so callous and self-worshipping as to ignore intense suffering happening in the world when it occurs outside of our national borders. While reading the story you liked the little do-gooder raccoons, right? And you thought that Uncle Raccoon was a real jerk, yeah? And why is that? Because you felt that the little raccoons were doing what was right by helping the possums. Now I’m not going to launch into a moral/ethical discussion of right and wrong – I’m just going to venture to say that helping others is generally a good thing. Or at least that’s what several other well known stories involving cute, fuzzy animals led me to believe as a child.
And another point I’ll bring up briefly is the scale of poverty in the developing world. I’m only going to touch on it briefly because in all honesty it is a concept that is difficult to grasp if you have never spent a significant amount of time in a developing country. It is almost impossible to describe the scale of poverty that is the reality in some places. After nearly two years of living in Madagascar I am only just beginning to appreciate the true scope and repercussions of poverty here. After two years of seeing people with bleeding feet from not having shoes to cover them, babies with arms like sticks and skin like tissue paper from severe malnutrition, women fetching dirty water from the river which they will then drink, and children carried 10 kilometers in the arms of their parents only to die at the doorstep of the health clinic from a completely preventable disease – after all that I am beginning to understand the heart breaking and terrifying scale of poverty in the developing world.
Since this whole blog started with a story, I’ll share another one really quickly. A few of you may have heard this one before. So there was this really unfortunate guy who got the crap kicked out of him. He’s lying there on the side of the road covered in blood and dirt and generally not having the best day of his life. A few people pass by, even some people from his hometown but none of them help him. Things are looking pretty grim. Buzzards are circling, life flashes before his eyes, that kind of stuff. Then one really cool guy happens upon the scene. He doesn’t know the injured man but immediately he helps him find a ride back into town and gets him some much needed medical attention. And when the hospital has a fit that the injured man has no insurance the cool guy pays for it out of his pocket. Sound familiar? It’s the story of the good Samaritan from the Bible – although I admittedly may have tweaked a few details. I think people would agree that the Samaritan was…well…pretty darn good. When others turned away, perhaps thinking that they had enough problems on their plate without adding this man’s too, the good Samaritan swooped in Superman style and saved the day. I don’t know about you, but if I had to choose a role to play in that story I would most definitely want to be the good Samaritan. Those other guys just kind of suck.
Now that I’ve already tread into sensitive territory by sharing a Bible story (Oh no! Religion! Everyone freak out!) I’ll throw caution to the wind and actually quote something from said book – love thy neighbor. And I don’t care if you get your spiritual guidance from the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the tea leaves at the bottom of your cup, Oprah Winfrey, or your own naval lint…those seem like pretty wise words to live by. Love thy neighbor. It isn’t love thy fellow Americans or love thy fellow comfortably middle class or love those who speak your language or love thy neighbor but only when it’s convenient…its love thy neighbor. I take that to mean love your fellow man. Be compassionate. Help those in need. Make sacrifices for the benefit of others. Do good deeds whenever and however and for whoever you can. Basically, don’t be a selfish a-hole.
Great. Now let’s all get in a circle and sing Kumbaya.