Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ethical Math

I didn't make it to Boise this week. My boss wanted me to stay in town for this last week because she thought I might learn more through "trial by fire" instead of being mentored. I'd agree. Right now the local office runs a little differently than the one in Boise, so learning the ropes right here makes sense; however, I also have to be mindful of the ways that things are done elsewhere. I'm accountable to the local office and to the rest of the company.

At any moment we have to be adapted to the local yet be thinking of the global. For example, we're involved in our communities to help those in poverty work toward a better life. We run soup kitchens and pantries to feed the hungry. At the same time we have to remember the greater poverty elsewhere in the world and then see ourselves connected to their suffering. We can see ourselves in the center of nearly infinite circles stretching out on the horizon. We see the closer circles more clearly and can do a lot more.That doesn't diminish our responsibility for the circles farther out, though.

Our responsibilities are layered and pretty confusing. For every dollar or can of food I give to a local food bank, that's one less possible donation to feeding people elsewhere. We could get into an endless debate about where to start (should I give to those who might die today without food, or do I have a greater responsibility for those who I might help lift out of poverty and hunger?) because it ends up feeling like a giant math problem. People get boiled down to numbers and probabilities and percentages in order to maximize (what a nice economic word!) the good.

I can't solve this giant math problem. I can't perfectly balance all my duties between the local and regional and national and global (and universal). I can, however, try to keep them all in mind. Perfection is impossible, solving the world's problems alone is impossible. Being responsible and aware, though, are very, very possible.

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