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Does our knowledge about poverty bring with it an ethical obligation to do something about it personally? If so, what can we do? Before one can even begin to answer the question stated above one must fully understand what that question is actually asking. The first piece of this question that needs to be defined is poverty. Poverty can be defined in multiple ways due to it’s multiple forms such as cultural poverty, mental poverty, spiritual poverty, economic poverty etc.
So for this specific essay we can use the definition that states that poverty is the condition of being poor a. k. a.
The state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support. Now that we’ve created an understanding of what poverty is in this essay we need to ask ourselves, does it bring with it an ethical obligation to do something about it personally? Ethical relates to ethics and by being connected to “obligation” in this sentence we can understand that an ethical obligation is an act that we consider a duty because of our personal principles of right and wrong.
Because our perception of ethics varies with each person it makes it impossible to answer the given question with a simple yes or no and have all viewpoints covered.
These personal viewpoints are defined through many different variables such as age, religion, social class, gender, education, race and many other things that define a person. One answer to this question being that, yes, we are ethically obligated can be agreed upon by many different people but for different reasons.
Muslims for example are religiously obligated which fits in with ethics because religion has influenced their belief of what is right and wrong. In the Islamic religion there are five pillars of Islam, one of which is Zakah, or the financial obligation of Muslims.
They are taught to annually give one fortieth of their wealth to charity. Every Muslim is given the option of how they chose to go about giving to charity and in my grandmother’s case, who is a Muslim but not necessarily devout in her religion, gives directly to those in need rather than a charity. For example, a few years ago my grandmother heard from her old masseuse, we can call her “Sarah” that her husband tried to kill her by burning her alive and then committed suicide. Sarah was severely burned and required multiple surgeries but lacked the money to help herself.
After my grandmother found out she contributed money to help her with the medical bills and this was part of how my grandmother gave her yearly wealth to charity. Sarah in this case fits in with economic and emotional poverty because of the situation she was in. My grandmothers religion was no the only influence on her giving to this cause but also the way she was raised. Growing up, her parents constantly stressed that putting others before yourself was the “right” thing to do, and this is why she felt ethically obligated to help Sarah.
In this way we’ve learned that one thing we can do to help poverty is give to those around you who you can conclude, ethically, are in need. What my grandmother did is not necessarily right or wrong but from my grandmother’s prospective it was morally the right thing to do. Another viewpoint which also would support the “yes” attitude towards whether or not we are ethically obligated to help poverty would be from a person who was once, themselves, in poverty or are currently in poverty. As a child my mother was impoverished in the way that i had described before.
Her family could not provide necessities for themselves because of a large lack of money. She would have to end up eating the same stale old cereal sometimes for dinner each night. Because of what she experienced, her code of ethics has been effected greatly. She cannot tolerate seeing others go through what she did as a child. Therefore, my mother as well felt ethically obligated to do something about poverty. An example of how she does something about poverty would be the time that a homeless woman and her family asked for help at a gas station.
The woman explained to my mother that she recently lost her job and had no gas or money. Her and her family were living out of a car and after my mother acquired knowledge about this woman’s life in poverty she felt ethically obligated to assist. The woman reminded my mother of her own mother growing up and her struggle to provide for a big family. Therefore, she as well agrees that we are ethically obligated to do something about poverty. I also think we should do something about poverty, but we are not obligated.
My ethics have taught me that, yes, poverty is a “bad” thing and that I should try to help when I can. Rather than feeling ethically obligated to help, I feel forced. This might be because I cannot graduate without having my share of community service hours completed. Many times I also feel guilt-tripped into helping because of the way that my school and the media presents poverty to me. In the end, I’ve found that not everyone feels ethically obligated to do something about poverty, and even if they do, they wont necessarily do anything about it.
Although, many times people do try to do something about poverty. The things we can do about poverty are more than just giving money to people on the streets or donating to charity organizations; we can spread our knowledge to others and start a chain reaction of poverty aide. Maybe then, we can get others to feel ethically obligated to help. I am not saying that it is the right thing to do, but personally, I feel that it is. Not because of a moral obligation but because of guilt. Guilt for having so much more than some people and not having a legitimate reason for why I am more deserving then others.
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