Poverty is a disgraceful and unjust condition that has always haunted mankind. Most people see the problem as insoluble. They see previous solutions that have failed. Some even think that previous remedies have worsened the condition of the poor. They claim that assisting the poor increases dependency and produces a “culture of poverty” that persists from generation to generation. Some go further and blame the poor for their problems. They think many of the poor are shiftless, lazy, unintelligent, or even parasitic. All that said, there is widespread pessimism about mankind’s ability to reduce the world’s level of poverty and wasted lives. But why help the poor? This is a subject about which I feel passionately, yet at the same time realistically – with a strong compassion rather than sentimentality.
Nevertheless, as I have traveled the world, my indignation has often been aroused by the sights and sounds of human need. I had the privilege once in Calcutta to meet Mother Teresa at one of her feeding centers for the poor and outcast of that teeming city. When I asked her how she coped with all the fame and adulation she receives, she replied: “It means nothing to me. But one thing I have done which I believe is important. I have helped people to talk to the poor and not just about the poor”. That is a simple but very significant statement which indicates ‘the poor’ are not just some conglomerate group which can be dismissed as an economically, non-productive sector of society that we are unfortunately stuck with. They are fellow human beings – real people, individuals – for whom we have concern and responsibility.