Our mental capacity allows us to literally change and control our physical world. We can filter the air we breathe and determine the temperature of our environment. Using our intelligence we can change the course of rivers and move mountains. We have the mental ability to prevent and heal illness and disease. We have created complex societies and governments. We have domesticated animals and learned to grow nutritious food with sophisticated agricultural techniques. We have developed an endless stream of machines to perform mundane tasks for us, as well as to do extraordinary things like take us to the moon and beyond. Our mental acuity is responsible for the comfortable lives that we presently enjoy. 

However, the human mind is also capable of creating unbelievable misery and heartbreak. Our intelligence has unleashed nuclear weapons upon the world. The holocaust was the direct result of a particular mindset. For centuries the idea of slavery was accepted behavior, produced by a train of thought that rejected the concept of equality. We’ve devoted massive amounts of intellectual capacity in the ongoing effort to kill each other. Everything from handguns to aircraft carriers to the latest missile systems are designed for one simple purpose and that is to cause death and destruction as efficiently and effectively as possible. “The most bang for the buck” is not an idea we should be proud of. We must acknowledge that while the human mind is capable of love, trust and commitment it is also responsible for hate, bigotry, and injustice. The world we currently live in, for better or worse, is the direct result of the quality of our thinking. 

That is why we must accept the fact that extreme poverty persists today because we allow it to. Stop for a moment and consider that statement. At first you probably don’t think it’s true. You might believe that poverty is the result of natural disasters, draughts and wars. Perhaps you assume it is the result of cruel governments that oppress their people. You may be convinced that it is the result of epidemics of disease and illness. You may suspect it is the result of the denial of human rights and the intolerance of racial prejudice…and you would be right – up to a point. All of these things can cause extreme poverty but, again, the reason it persists is because we allow it to.

There is enough food to feed everyone. When 18,000 innocent children die from hunger related causes each day it is completely unnecessary. We can feed them – but we don’t. When millions of children die every 12 months from preventable diseases it is because we choose not to vaccinate them. When mothers have a 1 in 16 lifetime risk of dying during childbirth it is because we are comfortable with that horrific statistic. When HIV/AIDS sweeps across a continent leaving 15 million orphans in its wake we have no problem in withholding the life saving drugs that could save millions of lives. No matter which of the hundreds of grim scenarios in extreme poverty you choose to focus on you cannot avoid the ugly truth that we could save countless lives, but we have made the intellectual decision not to. Why? 

Why do we, as a species, feel so comfortable allowing hundreds of millions of people to live in filth and degradation when it can be prevented? What is it in our mental makeup that enables us to look the other way as one million children die in just 40 days? What mind games do we use to relieve the guilt for not making even the smallest of sacrifices in our lives so that others can simply stay alive? The intellectual gymnastics we employ to shift the blame and responsibility for the existence of extreme poverty to other individuals, groups and governments is extraordinary. Our brains are incredibly adept at ignoring the truth. We generally prefer to avoid the harsh realities of life and instead delude ourselves into thinking that everything is just fine, even when we know that is not really the case.

To solve the complex problem of poverty we must harness as much of the potential power of the human mind as we possibly can. We must focus with reason and clarity on the exact steps that need to be taken in order to relieve the suffering of tens of millions of people. But before we can start down that road we must first accept the facts and statistics regarding this killer. We can no longer pretend that it is not happening, and, most importantly, we must step up and accept the responsibility for changing the conditions that allow poverty to flourish. We must think rationally and precisely about what can be done and how to implement those solutions in a fast and efficient manner. It is essential that we employ all of our cognitive skills in the effort to better the lives of a billion people, and we must always be aware that time is the enemy of those who have to bury 25,000 children each day.

The human mind is capable of so much. We create beauty with art and music that enriches our lives. We make amazing advances in science and medicine that benefit humanity. We build great universities that offer the most comprehensive educations possible…and yet we completely fail 1 out of every 6 humans on earth. We do not consider their needs or rights to be important enough to bother with. We ignore their constant pain and suffering, preferring instead to buy more material things for ourselves. We look the other way as the death toll from our neglect rises. When a billion people cry out for help we answer them with silence…How can we be so intelligent about some things but so ignorant about the things that matter most? 

The time has come for humanity to use its intelligence for the betterment of the world instead of its destruction. One less missile system or one less aircraft carrier could free up staggering amounts of money that could be put to use in peaceful and humanitarian ways. We must make the decision to go forward using the power of our minds to build rather than to destroy, to lift up rather than to oppress, to free people from the bonds of poverty and to save the life of every innocent child we possibly can. We must try to understand how to make the most of our intellectual potential while also being on guard against the abuses that can occur if we do not channel our thinking into positive and productive efforts.




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