Global Poverty: The New Frontier of Colonization?
Pope Francis recently shared in a speech about the main issues which need to be addressed in 2018 in order to make Earth a better and more peaceful home for humanity.
In his message, the Pope covered a wide variety of important topics which oppress the most marginalized people in our global society, and that also impact humanity as a whole. His points ranged from immigration to the Syrian war, from medicine to robots, and from child labor to poverty. (Here's a quick overview of the topics he discussed.)
There was one topic which really stood out to me in the Pope's speech. When he discussed the issue of poverty in the world, he focused specifically on the gap between the rich and the poor in our world.
Here are his words on the matter:
Do you catch what he is saying here?
The injustice of global poverty is at risk of becoming the new frontier of colonization in our world.
The Oxford dictionary describes colonization as "the action of appropriating a place or domain for one's own use."
Now this could be considered a little over the top to use such a history-heavy term like colonization in the conversation about poverty because of the countless evils associated with it. But let's think through this a little.
The colonization by European powers of the rest of the world consisted of "powerful" nations exploiting people, nations, and resources because they assumed they had life more figured out than the conquered people groups - and (of course) it benefited them greatly. They brought their "higher forms of living" and implemented it on cultures and lands that they saw as inferior.
How does this relate to the issue of poverty in our 21st century world?
One of the foundational elements to any type of colonization is the belief that the "colonizer" is better/smarter/wiser/more refined/higher culture. And, by definition, these colonizers will take their worldview of superiority and use it to rationalize their "helping the lesser people" by taking over control of the societies of these "lesser people."
Now that sounds like some philanthropic work doesn't it?
The rich and famous provide the funds and means to "fix" the poor and their broken societies, often without much input from those who are labeled as needing "fixed."
Richer individuals, organizations, or countries can all too often assume that their way of life is the best and most evolved and, thus, that everyone should live/think/act just like them. It can seem as if the world would become paradise if everyone lived by their cultural standards.
And, honestly, each of us can run this risk can't we?
We only do what we do (most of the time) because we believe what we are doing is "best." And if we want to help someone else, it makes sense that we would then be led to make them more like us.
The issue with this - which the Pope addressed in his speech - is that helping others runs a risk. He named it as "ideological colonization."
That in the process of addressing the gap between the impoverished and the wealthy that we could step into a modern day form of colonization.
And by wealthy here, I think we need to look at a global perspective. Use this online tool to see where you fall compared to the rest of the world. Make over $32,000 a year? You literally are the 1%. It would take the average worker in Ghana 200 years to make what you will make this fiscal year.
Let that sink in.
For just above everyone reading this post - we are the wealthy ones.
We are the 1%.
And yes, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves. One of the core elements to our humanity is assisting others in need. But how we go about providing that help is extremely important.
The risk is this: That the good intentioned work of helping the poor can easily devolve into a new form of colonization which imposes a foreign worldview on those who are labeled as "in need" - perhaps to the benefit of the wealthy.
To put it another way: We risk "addressing global poverty" in a way that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.
We must be conscious of how we approach philanthropy, charity, aid, community development, and compassionate ministry. And we need to ask ourselves who we are really trying to help.
It also requires a dosage of humility to remember that help can be very culturally-contextualized.
Let me say that in slow motion: you very well may not have all the answers.
There are two main points we can draw out of this conversation:
- We need to check our intentions. Why are we doing what we are doing? Who's good are we truly looking out for? Who will truly benefit from my actions? Am I trying to help someone or further my cultural norms?
- Let "the other" lead. Allow me to make one point clear here - I am not saying that philanthropy, aid, or compassion are bad things. Quite the opposite. I believe we must help others anywhere and everywhere we can. But maybe we need to not be the one's dictating how that help is provided and directed. Allow those we are seeking to help set the agenda and gameplan. We can't assume we know the best way or that our cultural worldview is flawless. We can all learn from each other. We MUST all learn from each other.
I was in a conversation recently with a church leader in a developing country about community development projects in his country. During our discussion about various (really great) projects, he said: "Sometimes a community really needs a well. They are very helpful. But in some places what we truly need is funding to develop our next generation of leaders - but all we have is money for wells."
As we seek to make a difference in the world, we need to make sure that we evaluate our perspective and approach. We may not know everything. We probably don't. And even if something is best in our own culture, it doesn't mean that it will always translate well.
Because sometimes leaders, rather than wells, are the need.
And we can only do that if we allow others to lead.
This is the question I am wrestling with right now: How do we eradicate poverty absent a modern-form of colonization?
We must respect every human as a child of God and as someone who can help the world.
When we approach needs in that way, we can move forward with humility and a true desire to serve - not dominate.
As someone who has committed my life to "not-for-profit work", this has left me with some sleepless nights recently as I have wrestled with what I am doing, how am I doing it, and why am I doing it?
In order to give a "hand up" rather than a "hand out", we cannot dictate every aspect of an act of assistance or compassion. Perhaps in order to best help, we need to follow rather than lead.
As you can tell, I am still processing the implications of "ideological colonization" in our world today.
So what are your thoughts?
Is the threat of a new form of colonization in our world legitimate? How do you see it related to the injustice of poverty? How do we move forward humbly and effectively as we help others?
We have a lot of work ahead of us.
As a mentor of mine tells me every time we meet: "To whom much is given, much is expected."
Let's get to work on eradicating poverty in our world. And let's do it as well as we can.
I'll close with these inspiring (and directive) words from the same speech given by the Pope:
"The Lord Jesus himself, by healing the leper, restoring sight to the blind man, speaking with the publican, saving the life of the woman caught in adultery and demanding that the injured wayfarer be cared for, makes us understand that every human being, independent of his or her physical, spiritual or social condition, is worthy of respect and consideration."