Last Sunday, I posted three poems I wrote based on this week’s service at my Unitarian Universalist church. Today I would like to talk more about that service, specifically about a story that was told and acted out by both the minister and congregation members, a story meant to make people think harder about everything. This story was about a woman who set off to achieve her dreams. While she was on her way, she met another woman with a rope wrapped around her. That woman unwound most, but not all, of that rope and handed one end to her. She told her to keep holding on, then jumped off the bridge into the fast-moving river. Knowing the other woman would drown if she didn’t let go, the woman going off to achieve her dream held on for a long, long, time, even though she was running out of time to achieve her dream. She kept asking the woman in the river what else she could do to help her, but the only answer she got was to keep holding on to the rope. She did for a little while, but then gave up, let go, and went on to achieve her dreams before it got too late.
I wasn’t sure what this story was trying to say at first, but I hit on it while thinking about the different aspects of the service’s theme, which was helping others. One such aspect was the fact that no one can help someone who can’t help herself. After thinking that over, I concluded that that’s the real reason the woman going off to find her dream eventually stopped helping the woman who jumped off the bridge. The woman who jumped off the bridge wasn’t doing anything to get herself out of the river. She just kept holding on to the rope the woman on the bridge was holding while the other woman was running out of time to achieve her dream. I think this story was saying that since the woman in the river couldn’t help herself, she couldn’t solve her real problem, which was why holding the other end of the rope was a waste of time for the other woman.
The real problem was not that the woman in the river would get swept away and die if the other woman let go of the rope. Her real problem was that she was in a fast-moving river and needed to get out. That was the source of her problem, and this was one of those many cases where the only real way to solve a problem is to get rid of its source. Since the woman in the river refused to get rid of the source of her problem, a.k.a. find a way out of the river, the woman on the bridge couldn’t truly help her.
After coming to this conclusion, I started thinking of real life social problems that can only be solved if you get rid of their source. The social problems that interest me most, namely education and many environmental problems, tend to have sources that are difficult to identify, so it’s hard to say whether getting rid of these problems’ sources would actually solve the problems. With the most basic environmental problems the source is identifiable, but, as last Sunday’s haiku states, getting rid the source is rarely that simple. The overall source of environmental degradation is also difficult to identify. The source of both environmental degradation and inadequate education as a whole, I think, though, is the wrong attitudes on the part of most people involved. That is one of the hardest sources to get rid of, whichI will talk more about it another time, regarding both environmental degradation and suboptimal education. For now, I would like to talk about another social problem that is much more analogous to the story I mentioned above: world hunger.
The story is a very good metaphor for world hunger, because if all we do to solve this problem is give food (money to buy food, livestock animals, crops, etc) to the people plagued by it, all that ultimately does is take money away from the helpers and feed the helpees for as long as the resources last. Some resources last longer than others. Food itself is the shortest lasting resource, since it can only be eaten once. Therefore, how long giving someone food will help him or her depends solely on how much one person gives the other; thus it depends on how much the helper is willing to give the helpee.
This is one of the reasons organizations like Heifer International are helpful; they allow helpers to give helpees the gift of crops, which can be used over and over again to grow their own food, and livestock animals, which can give birth to more livestock animals and are thus, in Heifer’s own words, “gifts that keep on giving.” These organizations allow the helper to give the helpee longer lasting help, but they still don’t take away the source of world hunger, which, I understand, is usually governments not handling money or resources efficiently. All Heifer International offers is a more long-term solution than just giving people food.
How can we get rid of this afore-mentioned source of world hunger? I think making sure anyone who produces food gets to quite literally eat the fruits of his or her labor is a good place to start. This would be much more possible and much more effective if there were many smaller farms instead of smaller numbers of large scale farms. This is another reason why factory farms should be gotten rid of, besides being seriously polluting, a health risk, unkind to animals, and just plain disgusting. Factory farms really tick me off, and working to get rid of them would be working towards one of the seven guiding principles of Unitarian Universalism: respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Something else that ticks me off is that there are many people breaking their backs to produce food they never get a scrap of. All they get are meager amounts of money they can barely buy the food they produced with! That’s why I think making sure people who produce food get to eat a certain amount of what they produce for no additional cost would be an important first step. It would promote justice, which relates to two more of the seven Unitarian Universalist guiding principles: justice, equity, and compassion in human relations and the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
An important second step would be making sure all salaries for people who don’t produce food include enough money to buy food for one’s family, specifically for an adequately healthy diet. Another important step here would be letting people affected by world hunger help themselves. To do this, I think it would be very helpful to create situations where helpers and helpees for world hunger can be in the same room, or at least communicate with each other. A very informative project would be to interview impoverished families around the world and ask them what they truly need. What do they feel their true problems are, and how do they wish or hope they can solve them? More answers to questions like these could really help us to better assist impoverished families, and be less likely to not help them at all or hurt them when trying to.
Projects like this would have many benefits. They would make it easier for acts of helping others to always involve a relationship between two or more people. That is an ideal we should all shoot for. They would also promote the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, another one of the seven Unitarian Universalist principles. In addition, they would create opportunities for inter-faith and intercultural dialogue, two other things many Unitarian Universalists strongly believe in. Communicating with people in very different living situations from oneself is very important, too.
It would also probably help to let there be more direct selling of food products; more people buying food directly from farms and farmers’ markets instead of going to grocery stores. Farmers selling their products online would be an important step in this day and age, but it would make sense and be helpful if they only sold their products to people within a certain radius of their farm. I don’t really know what the government is specifically doing wrong in terms of food distribution, but I do know that many of the decisions I mentioned would need to be made by governments. A government that makes decisions like these would certainly be better than what most countries currently have!
So, this is the question sparked by my post and the service that inspired it: What other decisions, besides the ones I mentioned, would a government need to make in order to do a better job of distributing food and reducing world hunger?