As I was pondering this week’s post I got excited thinking about the fact that today was Groundhog Day (I’m not so excited that Mr. P. Phil saw his shadow, though…). I was excited to talk about the clichéd definition of insanity–doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. As I gleefully plotted the post I realized that Groundhog Day historically had nothing to do with doing the same thing over and over. This idea was introduced in a 1993 film starring Bill Murray, with the apt, though perhaps uncreative, title, Groundhog Day. I marveled at the notion that my precognitive connection, my free association, was something entirely unrelated to the original understanding of the day. Even more amazing, my first understanding of Groundhog Day (having to do with the length of winter) was something that had been learned then supplanted. And I’m not alone with this shift in thinking.
So what does this have to do with hunger? A lot, I think. For one, much has been made by folks like Nick Kristof and Peter Singer about the intuitive joy we feel when we help someone (a good thing!), especially when our help (e.g., filling a bag of food or serving someone a meal) or the person (e.g., sponsoring a child or giving to a specific project) is tangible and the need is immediate. While this probably has some evolutionary benefits–human beings are social creatures after all–attending only to immediate needs does not help us in the long term goal of eliminating hunger and poverty. It could even be detrimental. Take, for example, the situation in Haiti. As noted in the ELCA Disaster Response report on Haiti, “With the huge influx of humanitarian aid coming into the country, a negative impact is being realized by business owners.” The report goes on to explain some of the complexities of the situation, but the point is still the same. (To be clear, both immediate relief and long term development are needed, and both are integral to ELCA World Hunger’s approach to dealing with hunger and poverty, domestically and internationally.) In short, maybe our first impulse, our precognitive response, needs to be tempered. That intuitive joy we may feel by doing something tangible and immediate is good, but maybe we need to also find joy in the long term, and perhaps less glamorous, work of working with and on behalf of those who are vulnerable.