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Thursday, 11 December 2014


   One of the hardest things in life to deal with is lack of progress.  When the work we are doing does not seem to make any difference, we easily give way to despair.  No matter how hard we try, our efforts seem to be in vain.  I'm reminded of the punishment of the mythical character Prometheus whose daily task it was to roll a heavy boulder up a steep hill only to have it descend to the bottom again so that he could do it again.  There is also the psychological torture used in various concentration camps where workers are required to move a pile of dirt by hand one day and move it back to its starting place on the next.  The lack of progress becomes a lack of purpose.
   The other day I was heartened to read a statement of progress from of all people, philanthropist and businessman Bill Gates. We tend to think of poverty in the world as enveloping millions of people whose identities merge together into an impersonal blob.  When we receive appeals to help the poor, we may have the sense that no progress is being made.  From our perspective it seems that the same people and nations are always facing the same problems of drought, malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, and so on. What will our meagre resources do to help in this colossal task?
   The statement of progress said the following:

By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful.  

  Gates then goes on to challenge three myths people believe that can slow progress in helping people escape extreme poverty.  You can read these in the 2014 Gates Annual Letter along with viewing pictures and graphs that show specific ways in which incomes, health and longevity have improved in most countries around the world.
   I do not attribute all of the progress to sheer human effort, because I know that only with God's blessing can our meagre efforts attain anything.  Neverthless, I am encouraged our global village has fewer neglected citizens.  That sense of progress makes me more hopeful and, paradoxically, more generous.

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