“Becoming Responsibly Engaged in the World.” If you haven’t heard that phrase yet, you may have slept through your time at Concordia. BREW-ing is the often mentioned theme and goal of Concordia’s core curriculum. What we need in the world, however, are thoughtful and informed citizens who go beyond engaging responsibly in the world to living responsibly.
The United States contains just under five percent of the world’s population, yet it controls over a quarter of the world’s wealth. The dozens of Concordia students who go on Justice Journeys and Habitat for Humanity trips each spring and the immediate and substantial response from the students of one political science course to the disaster in Haiti earlier this year are clear examples of the commitment Concordia students have to alleviate the suffering caused by this pyramid-like wealth structure. Now let’s take that one step further.
Let’s change the way we live in order to topple that unjust pyramid-like wealth structure. The Global Footprint Network estimates that it would take five planets to sustain life if everyone lived the way the average American does. Five planets! It is impossible to bring everyone in the world to the same excessive standard of living that we have, so as long as we in the United States and other wealthy countries insist on living our lives of excess, other human beings will be forced to live lives of scarcity. That means that any hope of achieving equality in the world rests on a commitment from those born with privilege to change our lifestyles.
As a student of Concordia’s Social Justice, Peace and Development program in India last fall; I had the opportunity to meet with several rural Indian farmers. In the village of Putsil, farmers expressed to us their frustration that the rainy season no longer comes at the same time each year as it used to, wreaking havoc on their crop yields, and with it, their livelihoods. Meanwhile here in the United States, we continue to drink bottled water, juice and soda on a regular basis, eat meat three times a day and drive a car to a grocery store that is less than a mile away, caring little about the effects our actions have on the environment.
The production of a pound of meat requires between three and ten times more resources than the production of a pound of grain, yet the average American continues to consume heaping portions of meat in almost every meal even as millions worldwide starve to death. UNICEF estimates that 24 thousand children die as a result of poverty each day.
Seventy percent of the world’s estimated 218 million child laborers work in agriculture, yet Walmart can advertise its low prices as a good thing, knowing that we as consumers will be happy to buy a new t-shirt for two dollars rather than concerned for the child in India or the Honduras being paid cents a day to pick cotton so that shirts can be sold so cheaply here in the United States. In order to achieve equality, we must change that. We must value people more highly than money and act in accordance with that value.
Is it easy to commit to eating less meat, to consuming less plastic products, to driving less or to paying for clothing and other products what they are actually worth? Is it convenient? Of course not. Meaningful change is never easy or convenient, but if those of us with the privilege to affect change are not willing to do so because it is ‘too hard’ or ‘too inconvenient,’ we must content ourselves to life in a world full of injustice and inequality. More than that, we must resign ourselves to the truth that by being content with living comfortably, we are forcing others to live in poverty. By accepting injustice, we are creating it. By choosing not to change our own lifestyles, we are also deciding for millions of others that their lifestyles cannot improve.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice that make philanthropy necessary.” Charity is a great band-aid, but it is not a cure. Eradicating poverty and injustice will not be easy but it will happen if we the consumers care enough to challenge our own comfort in pursuit of justice. Move beyond engaging responsibly to living responsibly in the world. Commit to care.
Ayah Kamel is a senior Political Science and Global Studies major from Fargo. She has been verbally spouting opinions since she could talk and is happy to be able to write them down as a member of The Concordian’s opinion staff. Although Ayah does not yet know what the future holds for her, she has latent dreams of becoming the next Nicholas Kristof.