December 31, 2016


To Make the World Better, Think Small (Arthur C. Brooks DEC. 30, 2016, NY Times)

The 1 > 1 million axiom is more than a fund-raising secret. It is a formula for each of us in an existentialist funk to connect to our deepest values and apply them to a hurting world.

The first step is to see individual faces in our own beliefs. There is an old joke that a Marxist is someone who loves humanity in groups of one million or more. While I am no Marxist, I confess that my arguments sound like this at times as well. For example, as an economist I have for years waxed rhapsodic about globalization. Billions have been pulled out of starvation-level poverty because of free trade, my data say.

The trouble is that, from left to right, politics of late has turned against globalization and even converted the word "globalist" into an epithet. My data about the billions haven't stood up very well to the winds of populism.

This has led me to focus on the actual people in my life who have been saved by a globalized world. I think of my friend Krishna Pujari, who was born into extreme poverty in a village in India and is today a middle-class entrepreneur giving tours to Westerners of micro enterprises in Mumbai. Deeper still, I think of my own daughter, Marina, whom my wife and I adopted 12 years ago from an orphanage in China and who today is like my own beating heart.

The second step is to move our ideals from politics and opinions to action. The way to do so is by finding a way to exercise my beliefs in the life of another person -- today.

Pope Francis gave his followers a wonderful lesson in this principle in the recently concluded Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Roman Catholic Church. It sounds like a get-out-of-jail-free card for sinners. In reality, it was an exhortation to all Catholics to forgive another person this very day.

The pope's insight is not just useful for Catholics. Good people of all beliefs, on facing harsh global realities, can retreat to cynicism. It seems like naïve kumbaya to bless a world full of cruelty and exploitation, right? The pope invites me to remember that it is well within my capacity to look with mercy on one person -- and thus in that one person, to see my own face. I crave forgiveness and love; I get it by forgiving and loving others.

Posted by at December 31, 2016 8:57 AM