Sunday, April 25, 2010

Development in a Word

If you had to sum up development in one-word, what would it be? Self-transformation.
We development people like to think we’re better than those foreign policy and defense types. We are worse than the U.S. military that spawned the Taliban in Afghanistan and then returned to kill its monstrous creation, claiming that it was liberating the Afghanis.

To us, it’s glaringly obvious that U.S. behavior – its military interventions and economic disruptions abroad – lays the grounds for terrorism. Why then can we not see the equally obvious truth that how we live as Americans – how we dress, how we eat, how we work, how we play – creates poverty? We focus on poverty-alleviation while ignoring all the while poverty-creation. That t-shirt I bought from the Gap, the car I drove to work, the bananas I ate for breakfast – all have economic, political, and social reverberations throughout the developing world.

I’m not going to apologize for having been brought up in a middle-class family one of the wealthiest countries of the world. My parents worked hard for their incomes. Their sweat and sacrifices allowed me to grow up comfortably without financial concerns. I’m not going to apologize for my standard of living. But I am going to show gratitude to the society that brought me up so well. And in this globalized world that doesn’t just mean the U.S., but rather refers to Indonesia, for sewing my clothes; Honduras, for growing and exporting my breakfast; and Detroit for assembling my car. In order to start paying back my debt, I have to work to help global society.

How can I help global society? One way is obviously to go out and work with the poor, or in development terms, poverty-alleviation. The other is to focus on the root causes of poverty, or poverty-creation. That can only be done by changing my own behavior, for example by reducing my purchases from sweatshops, buying locally grown blueberries instead of bananas, and biking to work. Why do you think the Green and Slow Food Movements have become so popular recently? People around the world are finally realizing that if they don’t change their own behaviors, that if they don’t reduce their carbon emissions or support their local economies, development will never occur. That may not phrase it in terms of development, they may call it “protecting the environment” or “saving the world,” but at the end of the day, isn’t that what development is? True development is salvation for all of us because the only way to ensure that we all survive is by no longer creating poverty.

We live in a faith-based economy…People are asked to place their faith in economic and political systems that have polluted water, air, and sea…As that faith begins to seem more and more misplaced, the way to change the world is change one’s own practices, including one’s home, source of energy, method of agriculture, diet, transport patterns, and communities…Efforts must continue to be directed to bring about institutional change, but such efforts cannot succeed unless people reexamine how they behave and consume in their own lives.
– Paul Hawkens, Blessed Unrest, 174-175

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