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How to tell the story of poverty without exploiting poor people … again

I have seen many teams proudly wearing all kinds of crazy on a t-shirt. Bright colours, comic sans font and a heavy scripture verse seem to be important to really show off your STM convictions. I admit I have been guilty of creating a few sweet mission T’s myself.

But the T-shirt slogan that still makes me cringe the most was the one with the slogan “To the least of these”

Good Intentions (I have to hope…)

I understand that the team was well-intentioned. They had probably read the words in Matthew 25 and saw themselves as the hero giving to the poor. I understand why they thought the way they did, but they were wrong. No one wants to be someone else victim.

Least of all, to be seen as the least of anything.

This is not some weird isolated event either. I hear this kind of language all the time. Well meaning volunteers always see themselves as the hero in the story. I recall talking to a person who really wanted to volunteer overseas. As she spoke she gushed about her love for the poor in Africa, and at one point actually said these words,

I just love those chocolate babies!”

I am not joking. Those words actually came out of her mouth. She meant it in love and compassion. Her heart was in it, but her words were a bit insane.

Crappy engagement, with the best of intentions, is still crappy

Frankly, people like her are not that unusual. When a disaster happens in the western world and people begin to rally, someone will always hitch their wagon to the crisis and try to co-opt the outpouring of compassion.

“Sure, a bunch of people were forced to abandon their homes due to that hurricane, but do you know how many people die of malaria or polio each week!?!”

No one likes it.

It sounds a lot like self-centred complaining rather than it sounds like real compassion for a needy person. Any agency that tries to guilt people into awareness is lame, more importantly …

This technique totally does not work.

People just tune out. It is a bit like ‘liking‘ the Kony video from last year – it feels good, almost like you are signing a petition or something, but it is totally meaningless. Seriously, do you think Kony worried about how many Facebook likes the video got?

Speaking of video, I recently saw this one. It seems to be making the rounds. Sure it’s funny – but it also made me mad. Its another comparison video

I think you should watch it critically

How are all of the people in the video portrayed? Would you want to be portrayed and shown in this way? What is the intent?

Does it promote conversation and respect for the capacity of others, or just pull on heartstrings?

Do you think that this kind of video makes a difference?

Mark Crocker

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