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Monday, May 07, 2007

Individual responsibility

I was back in the gym this morning after a break of about a fortnight. It was good to work up a sweat again, and be lectured by that rather funny old man about the dangers of using a treadmill. He's like a permanent feature of the place; his presence, and rather repetitive questions (we have the same conversation each time, no matter how hard try to change its course) are reassuring.

Arrrrrgghh, I've lost the use of my right arm due to the salary man who's fallen asleep on me! (I'm on the subway home).

Ok, I shall continue left-handed.

Anyway, being back in the gym also gave me a chance to catch up on the Reith Lectures, this year given by Jeffrey Sachs. Good job I had sweat dripping off my forehead as the latest instalment had me in tears. What I find most upsetting is the incredibly pessimistic attitude of all those 'intellectuals' in the audience, posing questions after the lecture.

There's this attitude that we could never bring about the huge changes that are vital in order to rid the world of poverty, to combat the aids crisis, to bring industrial pollution under control. There's this attitude that bringing the population explosion of developing countries to an abrupt halt is impossible (it is not), that mosquito nets donated by the rich countries would end up in Swiss bank accounts, that the whole situation is so hopeless that we might as well give up now.

I am a strong supporter of Jeffry Sachs' view that we can bring about these huge changes. I also believe that it starts with the individual, as without individual action there is no group action, and nothing will change. I do not agree with those who believe it is the role of Governments alone to sort out the problems of others, or to combat climate change. As an Englishman I am a beneficiary of many of the sacrifices made by many of the poorest countries. Great Britain would not be as wealthy as it today were it not for the exploitation that we, and other developed countries, carried out in the past. I owe it to those people to regard their problems as my problems too.

Look at what we, that is YOU and I, as a community of 59 donors, have achieved so far with our Trailwalker event. We have now raised over three quarters of the $4000 dollars our teams have committed to donate to Oxfam, money that will be DIRECTLY FUNDING programs that will save many lives. This is a remarkable achievement, and we should all be mightily proud of our parts in this. It's not ez]exactly been all that difficult either (the difficult bit comes in a fortnight when we do the walk!). WE have shown that great changes are possible - it's just a matter of scale, and people realising that they too have personal responsibility.

It's been an interesting year this. I've been reading quite a bit on personal responsibility, mainly in connection with taking control of our lives and steering them in the direction we want them to go in... but this can also be applied to our personal CO2 emissions, our indirect use of child labour and other modern-day slaves, our poisoning of local water courses through our purchases of supermarket lettuces.

I've also spent some time around wealthy people who give a lot of money to charity. Giving money to charity has, in the past, been something that I'd do on an occasional basis, whenever there was a big crisis somewhere, but it was never a part of my everyday mindset. This past year has seen that attitude change, and I've been on the cusp of doing something about it for some time, even more so since I started working with Oxfam. Trailwalker has also had an impact on my attitude - I've really been taken aback by your generosity.

This morning's lecture and my thinking throughout the day since then has finally helped me reach a decision. If I am to be happy with myself as a member of a society in which most people have a disposable income (and a society in which I enjoy a high standard of living at the expense of others in places such as China and the Philippines), I need to commit to give a proportion of my income to charity on a regular basis. I'd be hypocritical not to. So that's what I'll be doing, as of today.

That decision made, I feel much better.

Now go and have a listen to the Reith Lectures. It may just change your thinking.

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