EMOTION IS THE FUEL THAT DRIVES BOTH THOUGHT AND ACTION.
The problem of extreme poverty is one that needs to be tackled with deliberate, well thought out plans. It requires an intelligent, cohesive effort to improve the lives of a billion people. A clear perspective regarding the harsh reality of their economic condition, as well as bold imagination to implement innovative ways to help them become self-reliant, is required to successfully change their world for the better…but emotion is critically important too. We are, after all, emotional creatures, and although we do rely on logic, we don’t rely on it nearly enough. It is emotion that usually wins the day.
Obviously we do what makes us feel good, and we avoid what makes us feel bad, but emotion is more complex than just positive or negative feelings. Emotion has tremendous power that often goes unappreciated. Many great things have been accomplished because someone or some group became upset with a situation and decided to take appropriate action. To be passionate about a subject is to have deep feelings and strong emotions about it. If we intensely care about a problem we harness all of our mental and emotional resources in order to focus on a solution.
When it comes to extreme poverty, emotion has a very important role to play. A normal human being feels sadness when they read about small children starving to death. They suffer guilt when asked to contribute money to help save the lives of poverty-stricken mothers who have a dramatically higher mortality rate during childbirth. They have hope when they watch the outpouring of generosity as the world responds to a natural disaster that kills thousands. Emotion is an important aspect of what makes us human. It gives us a lens through which we view the world. Optimism and pessimism, laughter and tears, expectation and regret, are all emotions we are familiar with.
But what are the emotions felt by those struggling in extreme poverty? There is often a complete absence of hope, and that void is filled with constant fear and desperation. Loneliness sweeps over them, and a feeling of empowerment is replaced by a sense of helplessness. Their lives become consumed with negativity, and they lose their dignity and self-esteem. They feel trapped and isolated, and because the emotions of extreme poverty are so raw and painful, they have a crippling effect on a person’s ability to function under such severe circumstances.
However, emotion can be the very thing that saves them. The emotions we feel as we watch their suffering is what drives us to take action on their behalf. The fact that helpless children starve to death makes us heartbroken. The thought that preventable disease runs rampant through entire nations leaves us outraged. The total lack of leadership by politicians around the world makes us feel sick. The greedy disregard for the pricing of life saving drugs by the huge pharmaceutical corporations enrages us, and the terrible fact that 10,950,000 innocent human beings die needlessly each year from extreme poverty make us feel ashamed.
But when we take these emotions of rage, guilt and shame and use them as motivation they can become powerful tools that compel us to take action to alleviate the suffering of fellow human beings. A sense of right and wrong is intensified by emotion. We already know in our minds what the right thing to do is, but when we infuse deeply felt emotion with our intellect we become focused and passionate about helping others. We can no longer stand by and watch children suffer in misery. We feel the need to try and make a difference in people’s lives. Emotion provides the drive and the stamina necessary to take on a life or death crisis like extreme poverty.
Often showing emotion is considered to be a sign of weakness – whereas, being cynical and unemotional is thought to be more realistic. But where has cynicism gotten us? One billion people are living in squalor at death’s door. 6,570,000 children die each year from starvation and hunger related causes. Entire countries are under siege from HIV/AIDS, and there are millions of orphans left behind with little chance in life. Cynicism has bred apathy and inaction. It has compromised our humanity. Being cold and unemotional has allowed us to stand by while millions of people have died unnecessarily. Not caring has nothing to do with being rational or tough. It is a sign of weakness. It is a form of fear. Not caring really means you are afraid to take a stand. Being cynical and heartless is the easy way out. It keeps people from feeling any responsibility towards others, and it allows them to look down on those who do feel compassion for those who are suffering. Cynics choose to ridicule instead of help. They prefer to criticize rather than participate. For all their bluster and bravado they end up standing meekly on the sidelines, afraid to feel any emotion that might lead them to make a commitment to helping others.
IT IS A COWARD WHO DOES NOT HAVE THE COURAGE TO CARE.