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Reflections: Who is my neighbor?

We’re rich—they’re poor
By Georgina Veldhorst

I live and work in both Africa and Canada and see both wealth and extreme poverty. As I reflect on the increasing polarity between the rich and the poor of the world, the following are just a few of my reflections on the nature of this complex dilemma. It is my hope that these reflections will inspire some deeper and broader conversation in your family or study group.

Most of the world’s population dream of living like Americans. This dream lifestyle has steadily improved over much of the last century to the point where many of our children have their own bedrooms, their own bathrooms, and many of us of driving age have our own cars. The problem is that most people in the world don’t live like this. And if they did, humanity could not be sustained. In the process of feeding our growing consumer appetite, we are wrecking havoc on our environment and our financial systems, as well as fueling world conflicts. What is the global cost of our insatiable consumer appetite, and what is it doing to humankind in far-flung places?

Our financial systems, and in fact the world as a whole, work best when short-term thinking is balanced with long-term thinking and when self-interest is balanced with the interest of the greater good. When short-term thinking and self-interest become the predominant mode of thinking and acting in our personal lives, families, churches, communities and businesses, disaster is sure to follow. When the resulting disaster happens on a national and international scale (seen in the current global financial crisis), we feel the impact here at home, and it can be very painful. The impact on the poor in the developing world is often even greater.

During times of economic crisis, it is easy to decrease or even stop our giving and tithing to our churches and the broader kingdom of God. Given our  challenges, it is easy to become even more focused on the short term and on self-interest. The Bible challenges this mindset in 2 Corinthians 8:1-3. It is not enough to give or tithe. Even in our giving to others we need to balance the short term with the long term and what we get in return with the greater good for others. Authors like Paul Collier (Bottom Billion) and Dambisa Moyo (Dead Aid) suggest that much of our giving to the world’s poor has minimal impact or is even destructive. Even in our giving we often act in our own best interest, rather than in the short- and long-term best interest of the recipients.

Questions for reflection:

  • Where does this reflection challenge you most?
  • How are you doing on balancing short-term and long-term thinking? How is the balance between meeting your self-interest and the interest of the greater good?
  • Is your giving making a real difference?

—Georgina Veldhorst, Class of 1990, Management Consultant, specializing in complex situations

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