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Poverty, Malnutrition, and Lack of Trust

Child malnutrition

I read an interesting article in a local newspaper a couple days back. Written by a social worker, it described the sad incidences of deaths of children in rural tribal belt in Western India.

What struck me from the article was one simple fact. A few blocks from the houses where some kids died of hunger, there lived a reasonably wealthy man who was a landowner and owned a couple of cars. This man vociferously joined the protests about how the government should have done something to save the hungry kids. But there are no records of him taking steps himself to make sure no children would die in his neighborhood.

As much dramatic the above fact is and as much it feeds right into our aching need of affirming our own moral superiority over others, for one moment we need to stop instantly jumping to judgement. We need to give that person a benefit of doubt and try to rationalize his decision without tracing it to a flaw in character. I think rarely people are bad enough to let a child die hungry if they are in a position to help without increasing risk in their life.

Most likely this person lives in a mindset, which not only a lot of Indians, but people from most of the poorer countries subscribe to. We live in a society where the assessment of risk by an average citizen is “high”. That’s why everyone makes it a high priority to cover up their ass first. They want to amass resources and keep it that way, so they and their kids have reduced risk in their life.

This heightened perception of risk is the root cause of corruption. Because you want to stack up as much money as possible, as soon as possible. This is why we have inflation. Because when everyone sees the prices rising, they increase the prices of the services they offer, contributing to a vicious cycle. This leads to a society where everyone is individually rich, but we all are collectively poor.

This gentleman, who owned two vehicles and lived right across from the dying kids, ignored present plight of others because he was more concerned about his own plight in future. For him, it was purely a risk mitigation strategy.

What people don’t realize is how badly they are harming the ecosystem they are living in. It’s like living in a shared house and taking wood and bricks from the walls and foundation to fortify your own room, just so that you will be protected from other occupants in the house. If you do it too much, the house will collapse you will have no place to live in.

Ironically at some level we all understand this. Yet the rational and logical part of the mind still tells us to focus on our own future risks. This is why we fail to create a society where people trust strangers. This is why we are failing to create strong neighborhood organizations.

If this cycle is to be broken, we have to cultivate social trust.

We have to begin by stopping the blame game. We have to begin by not blaming the person with two vehicles above. We must show him the social trust we are taking about. We must give him benefit of doubt and investigate his thought process rationally. What can we change, without asking people to change?  The biggest sign of lack of trust is an impulse to judge someone.

The child is victim of not lack of food, but lack of trust.


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