What would Buddha do?

Two recent posts from world-minded bloggers illustrate the rift between the young and well-off about the urge to “do good” — whatever that means, and for whatever reasons — and a cynical disavowal of the whole game. Fadereu at Shisha in the Courtyard asks:

Have you noticed that there is sudden surge in the number of people who want to transform society, help people, and in general, play “Jesus to the lepers in your head”?

I don’t think I’ve noticed a sudden surge like this, but maybe others have. It wouldn’t be surprising, since even the scant media coverage of things like AIDS and starvation in Africa, the human cost of war in Iraq, and other disasters like the 2004 tsunami makes the developing world out to be a pretty inhospitable place.

I’ve questioned on this blog what people’s motivations, or ultimate goals, are when putting on a large concert in support of Africa, or posting images of starving children online. Certainly, the use and overuse of images can deaden people to the reality those images portray, but do we allow cynicism to take over and say, “screw, it won’t help, so let’s do nothing”?

It’s unclear whether Fadereu is joking. But he echoes a certain mindset that suspects that people only “do good” in order to please themselves or make themselves feel better.

Why are NRI’s returning to India to improve the life of villagers? Why is the sympathy business or shall we say, guilt-driven industry so much in the money right now? What sins are we seeking atonement for? Is this a market-correction mechanism to redistribute wealth in a different demographic strata? Is this love?

The “guilt-driven inudstry” of NGOs and relief orgs is so “in the money” right now because a lot of people need help. The world has never seen such massive refugee populations living in destitute camps, and as more and more people leave their villages in search of work in large cities, or as villages are depopulated by war and disease, there will be even more work for people to do. Yet Fadereu even calls the Buddha in to buttress his case.

In the face of all this a relief worker in Darfur finds time to joke about the place yet still write about the hopeless condition of life there:

While my friends at home agonize about the uncertainty of getting a new job, getting into the right college, or whether or not that gorgeous man will really call, the people of Darfur are held hostage to an entire life that is nothing more than a big question mark.

Why do relief workers do it? Maybe some aid workers do feel guilty, and others selfless, and others heroic or egotistical. But who cares? I admire them for they’re willingness to try.

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