To feed, or not to feed the starving children in Africa….

There has been an epidemic in this country… of naïve and ignorant do-gooders whose actions cause more harm than good.  Their hearts are in the right place, but they just don’t grasp the repercussions of their methods.

There are so many examples of this – each one could have a book written about them.  Well, I don’t have the time or energy to write a book and I don’t have the time or energy to write about all of them but I am sick of sitting on my hands – so I am going to let my voice be heard and write a little bit about some of them.

I am not going in order of importance, simply in order of what is on my mind at the moment I can find the time to write.  And I am going to start, RIGHT NOW.

It baffles me that people somehow think they are doing good by offering our nation’s resources to the poor, underprivileged, and starving people in other countries while completely ignoring the needs of the poor, underprivileged, and starving people right here in our own country.

It’s not that the people in those countries don’t matter or don’t deserve help – it’s just that you need to take care of yourself and your own before you can take care of others.

Despite all we have as a country, we are not equipped to offer that kind of aid when there are so many U.S. citizens in need of help.  It’s irresponsible and actually cruel and uncaring to do so.

You can equate it to a family that barely makes ends meet.  They certainly have it better than some families out there and are thankful for the roof over their heads.  But their dept is so high they live in fear of losing everything they have and some nights the children go without dinner because there is not enough money to buy food.

Now imagine this – after getting paid, the parents go to the grocery store and buy enough to feed the whole family for the next week.  But rather than put that food in the cupboards and refrigerator, they donate it to a homeless shelter.  It’s only enough to feed one meal to a small handful of the swarms of people lined up to eat there… and now their own children must go without food until the next time the parents get paid.

What would you think about these people?  Would you consider their actions pious or cruel?  And what would you think about their children?  Would you think they were lucky to have such caring parents or would you feel sorry for them over the neglect?

I like to think that most of you would feel sorry for them… and I imagine the authorities would consider them unfit to care for their own children and they would most likely be taken away by the state and put into foster care.  Because while it’s a good thing to donate food to a homeless shelter… it becomes a horrible thing when your own children must go without food to do so.

Well, the government is kind of like the parents and the citizens a lot like the children.  And it is just a cruel for the government to ignore the needs of its starving citizens while offering help to starving foreigners.

This same principle applies within our own country too – to every layer of human connections.  If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to offer help past your front door – help locally first!  Don’t donate your spare resources to help hurricane victims 2 states over if your next door neighbor’s house was destroyed in a flood and he is crying out for help.  Don’t donate money to Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital if your co-worker’s child is dying and the mounting medical bills are about to force him to file for bankruptcy.  It’s cruel to offer help to faceless strangers and ignore the needs of the person standing in front of you.

And that is what you are doing when you send money to the starving children in Africa and look away from then homeless man standing on the street corner.

In the past when I have raised this point in discussion with those in support of foreign aid, it is often countered with the idea that starving people in other countries have it worse than the starving people in the U.S, and are therefore in greater need.

This idea is that even the poorest person in the U.S. still has it better than the average person living in a third world country because at least here they have access to things like medical treatment and homeless shelters and at least here they have a chance of turning their lives around.

But… while those points may be true, does that really mean they have it “better”?

What that line of thinking fails to account for is the roll that perspective plays in how good or bad something is.

Perhaps a good way to illustrate that is with food.  More specifically, canned dog food.  To a dog that is used to eating dry dog food everyday, it is a delicious treat that they would trip over themselves to get to.  But to the average human that is used to choosing their favorites amongst the thousands of foods available in the grocery store, having to eat canned dog food would seem like a punishment.

But perhaps that example is too extreme since it involves 2 different species and the physical differences between them could be a factor.  So let’s take it closer to home.  How about we talk about the teenager in the lower middle class family, who is so excited to get that rundown used car for his 16th birthday, instead.  Finally – freedom to go wherever he wants to go without relying on someone else for a ride.  He loves that car and washes it everyday.  He spends his weekends fixing it up with his dad while they talk about sports.  Later in his life, he looks back at those times as some of his fondest memories.

But what about that spoiled rich kid who wanted a Porche for his 16th birthday?  Give him that same rundown used car instead and he may just accuse you of trying to ruin his life and tell you he hates you.

The car is the same, their ages the same… so what is the difference?  Perspective.

So let’s bring it back to that starving child in Africa and that homeless American, only this time, let’s add some perspective.

That starving child in Africa has next to nothing, this is true.  By our standards, the conditions are unlivable.  But note the key phrase “by our standards”.  Because those conditions, horrific as they are, are all that child has EVER known.  Every single person around them lives under these same conditions.  They have an entirely different set of standards and to them that is normal.  They don’t even know what it means to have the kind of comforts that we consider essential, so it is impossible for them to know what they are missing.

Whereas, that homeless American used to know a completely different life before he lost his job, followed by everything else he ever held dear.  He had a warm bed, clean clothes, and a full belly.  He had a cell phone, a nice car, and he played golf on weekends.  He was well respected in the community and thought he had a lot of friends.  Those friends disappeared pretty quickly though, after he got evicted and started living in his car.  And by the time his car got repossessed, his former friends stopped remembering his name.

Now he sleeps in a cardboard box and eats out of the trash.  He can’t even remember the last time he bathed.  And when he holds his hands out to the nicely dressed strangers on the street, they avert their eyes, call him names, sometimes even spit on him.  And over and over he hears the same words uttered with disgust: “Get a job”.  As if someone who looked and smelled like him could even obtain an interview.  He was lucky if the manager didn’t call the police just for being on the premises when he tried.

All around him they sip their coffee and stuff donuts in their faces.  No one ever offers him a bite or offers to buy him a cup.  On the rare occasion he encounters someone willing to spare some change, they further insult his dignity by telling him not to spend that fifty cents on alcohol.

Then he watches them go inside their nice house where he knows they will kick off their shoes in front of the television, eat a nice hot meal, take a warm shower, and crawl into bed.  He is forced to watch all the people around him enjoying all the things he used to have… while he just wallows in the gutter.

Technically, he may have more than that starving child in Africa, but from his perspective he has it far worse… because he knows exactly what he is missing.

But of course, it doesn’t really matter who has it “worse”.  This is not some sick contest to determine who is the most deserving.  Such a determination is far too subjective to ever be defined in such black and white terms.  I only draw this comparison to reveal some of the flaws with the previously mentioned line of thinking.

So let’s back it up to the main point I am trying to make.  Which is really far less about who deserves help as it is about who is equipped to help.  And as a country, in order to be equipped to help other countries, we must first pull together like a family and make it our duty to ensure every member (i.e. citizen) can stand on their own before offering to lift up someone else’s family (i.e. foreign country).

Of course, there are a lot of potential negative consequences that can arise from too much charity or government aid, no matter who is on the receiving end.  But that is an entirely different topic for another day.