Saturday, April 24, 2010

On "Pathologies of Power" by Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer is an author of numerous books, both anthropologist and physician, and a promoter of social justice. Recently, I have just read his book "Pathologies of Power" about the health, human rights, and the war against the poor for my IPJH student elective.

Paul Farmer speaks from a passion that can only come from a changed heart. It is an uncommon phenomenon that one who has been witness to such suffering, poverty, and the evils of the world emerges un-jaded and unwavering in his mission. Standing amidst hopelessness he seeks hope, continually marching onward and fighting against an apathetic nation. His words penetrate as one who has lived and experienced as the poor do, not that he understands completely, but he has an empathetic heart and not of a sympathetic pride.

Why is someone who has the ability and knowledge to anything in this world choose to enter into relationships with those who are often viewed as the dregs of society? I would like to think it comes from both a profound understanding of who man is, and the simplest of revelations: because it is right.

This is a dangerous statement, because if there is a right way then it follows by laws of reason and logic there must also be a wrong. It is easy to define the right even if it is not easily accomplished. The wrong is not so, not because the answer is elusive, but because the inevitable reality frightens us. We work against it lest our conscience be tainted or guilt over take us and are then forced to adopt the logical eventuality that it is apathy and selfishness that rules over us, myself included.

If the opposite of work is to rest, the opposite of to go is to stay, and the opposite of selfishness is selflessness, then it follows that if the correct course is action the incorrect course is inaction. If it is right to help the poor then it flows that it is wrong to ignore them. The biggest enemy in the fight against poverty, justice, and health is not those force working against us, but the apathy of those who can rectify these injustices that exist.

We must be careful because of the evil of a sympathetic arrogance lurks in shadows. Instead we must be driven by empathy (see link for more on this subject).

Can we, those in a position to help, save the world? I do not believe we can. However, it does not change what is right:
"but what does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8


Anonymous said...

I only slightly agree. Correct me if I am wrong but it sounds like you expect everyone to help the poor all the time and never do anything else.
I think helping others should be a part of what we do but not the only thing we do. I person has got to live and eat, etc.

Colin said...

Wow! that was fast.

I would like to respond to your statement: "helping others should be a part of what we do but not the only thing we do" Instead of responding to the entire post.

I want to clarify my point in my post. Helping others should not be just something we do, but a way we live our lives. Selflessness should penetrate our very being so that when the opportunity arises to do the right thing the choice is easy.

pam said...

In order to better understand Paul Farmer and from where his insights come, one should read, Tracy Kidder's book, "Mountains Beyond Mountains". As you said, 'His words penetrate as one who has lived and experienced as the poor do, not that he understands completely, but he has an empathetic heart and not of a sympathetic pride.' ...Paul Farmer did grow in very simple , one might call poor, and unusual conditions. I would like to hear your comments about it. You are right, we are not put here for our own selfish needs, but for each other.

Colin said...

Everyone's history has a profound impact on who they are. The values and virtues we live by are handed down to us from our family, friends, and circumstances. It is always an inspiring story of a boy from meger means growing into a man whose words carry weight. But it is important to remember that while his upbringing had a profound impact on his life, even more profound is his impact on the world, and it would be no less profund if he was from a background of great riches. I would rather focus on the results of his life and not the beginning.

I would like to end with this: "The day of one's death is better than the day of ones birth." My father, a pastor, often stated, "I enjoy doing funerals better than weddings, because while the wedding focuses on beginnings, a funeral allows us to celebrate a life well lived."