Somebody’s gotta do it

17 Nov

The Tales From the Hood rock ‘n’ roll marathon continues. Here’s the fourth tune in the playlist:

(the lyrics to this song are R-rated for language… just so you know)

It must be really awesome to be one of those who get to sit up in the ivory tower analyzing spread sheets and randomizing stuff and coming up with all kinds of theories about what’s wrong with aid. It must be really cool to be the one just asking all of the hard questions, but to never have to – you know – get out there and, like, do stuff.

Somebody’s gotta be there when it gets ugly
Somebody’s gotta be there when it gets bloody
Somebody’s gotta get their hands dirty
Yo, it’s a f—ed up job but somebody’s gotta do it

Yep. Aid sure is messed up. There is sure a whole lot wrong with aid. Everyone has ulterior motivations. Everyone stands to benefit, except perhaps the poor. Very easy to see all of that from 35,000 feet. Very easy point out big picture issues. Very easy to ramble on about what not to do. Very easy to pontificate on about how everything that everyone who’s actually doing something is in some obscure way the wrong thing.

But figuring out what to do: quite another matter.

Somebody’s gotta come up with a plan
And be there when the sh!t hits the fan

Easy enough to get bogged down in epistemological inertia. Easy enough to hammer away at philosophical issues which, in the sanitized order of the halls of academia are important and clear, but that, by contrast, in the gritty reality of the real world don’t really move us closer to the goal of saving lives.

I hope ya’ll out there understand
Look man it’s a f—ed up job, but somebody’s gotta do it

I’m just sayin’

The narrow margin with the haves and the have nots
Will get smaller as I approach – so watch your stash box
Fox logo if your fave is local
Get bruised till you’re the color of the Laker’s logo
This is work n_____s

Go ahead. Bone up on Sachs and Easterly and Collier in grad school. Write your papers and blog posts about what’s wrong with the industry, without having been out in it. I’ve seen a hundred like you. Eventually the bills have to be paid. I know how this ends.

We all sin – the devil, what did I tell ‘im
Somebody gotta get their hands dirty and shoes muddy
I see things vividly, ya’ll vision is blurry

Yeah, yeah. Everyone knows what the aid workers should have done differently. Everyone’s an expert pundit.

But real clarity comes only when you’ve been the one to make the decision about which poor people get help and which don’t.  Or when you’ve been the one to have to tell them that decision.

Look man it’s a f—ed up job, but somebody’s gotta do it

2 Responses to “Somebody’s gotta do it”

  1. Lacey 17 November, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    I read a recent post from you about how aid work is not for everybody (in fact, only for those willing to devote their lives and careers to it), but this post seems to suggest that you have to be an aid worker to know what the real problems are, and therefore, have ideas on how to solve them. How do you propose we reconcile these two dichotomies? You can’t be an aid worker; but you have to be an aid worker in order to know how to truly solve problems?

    Also curious what you think the role of the general public is. I work for a large nonprofit with a lot of pulling power. If we were to attempt to get people to DO something (and not just educate themselves, because once you make people aware, they just want to know what they can DO), what would it be?

    Thanks for your blog – appreciate your perspective.

    • J. 17 November, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

      Lacey – excellent questions. Thank you for asking.

      To the first, I don’t really see it as a dichotomy or dichotomies. Being a physician is hard. Not just anyone can do it. It requires commitment and persistence on the part of anyone who chooses medicine as a career path/life choice. And, I’m gonna guess we’d agree that while many of us can self-educate and have a sense for what’s going on with our own health, trained physicians know better: they know better about the knowing what’s wrong and also about what to do. I’d see relief and development work in much the same way.

      To your second question: I often get asked by “ordinary citizens” what they can do… those poor people are just so… poor… surely there must be something they can do… My response is that there are basically two things:

      1) Be a responsible donor. Do your research. Know the difference between good aid and not good aid. Donate cash (not stuff) to an organization who does good aid. If that’s not enough, fund-raise for a good organization.

      2) Become an aid worker. Make the commitments. Make the investments. Get on the career path. Become an aid worker.

      Obviously there are many perspectives on this issue. I really see it as simply as that.

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