By Colleen Peterson
Within the past two weeks, I have been encouraged and inspired by the World Hunger team as well as reminded of a lesson I recently learned in my last semester at college. Through numerous conversations with co-workers in the office, a common theme that came up was the comprehensive approach that ELCA World Hunger uses to assist people in need. While this approach may not seem remarkable to people who have primarily worked for this organization, I recently took a course that explored the various methods of development organizations, many of which harm the most vulnerable people. Although most of these groups have good intentions to assist those in need, I have recently realized that good intentions are not always good enough.
In a time where people are often praised for their good intentions and international service trips, I invite you to think critically on who benefits from your good intentions. Can you think of a time you focused on the personal growth you experienced and failed to see the greater implications of your actions? I do not pose this question in hopes of making you feel hopeless but rather to empower you to see the ways that we can better help those in need. If we are unwilling to humble ourselves and see the ways we may be inflicting harm on those we mean to help, how can we expect to empower and assist the most vulnerable people? I admit that there are numerous incidences in my life where I have spent more time reflecting on the personal growth I experienced rather than seriously contemplating the impact of my actions on those I meant to help. It has been a difficult journey to see the ways in which my actions have likely harmed a community but I am learning to appreciate the uncomfortable reality that good intentions are not always good enough. While ignorance may be bliss, it is much more fulfilling and satisfying to know your actions are indeed helping those you intend to assist.
If you are interested in reading more about this topic, I encourage you to read Ivan Illich’s speech, “To Hell with Good Intentions,” and look at the blog “Good Intentions Are Not Enough.” There is a good chance you may disagree or feel uncomfortable with the different perspective that is given in the speech and/or blog but it is likely to provide you with a new lens to view your actions and impact on the world.
ELCA World Hunger Intern