A View from the Cave


Why do aid workers like to cut off their nose to spite their face? | 

Flickr, Vaughan


I’ve always liked that phrase, about cutting off your nose to get back at your face. It’s both wonderfully absurd and so bloody descriptive of our tendency to act against our own interests.

Today, I want to defend aid and development workers against themselves.

To be clear, I am not really an expert on this stuff. I am a journalist and, I accept, a lower form of life with no special insights into … well, much of anything.

Worse, as someone of Scandinavian bent, I am predisposed to holding a relatively bleak view of humanity and distrusting those who smile too much and/or claim they’re primarily motivated to help others.

Yet my job is to write about these folks who aspire to reduce global poverty, prevent deaths from unacceptably stupid causes like dirty water or lack of basic preventive health measures like vaccination — and generally keep slogging along trying to make the world a better place for the poor, for all of us.

I have to admit I am, despite myself, constantly amazed, encouraged and even inspired by these people.

So what the heck is their problem?

Why do they keep flogging themselves, even celebrating those who criticize and ridicule them? Why are they so passionate and engaged about what’s wrong with what they do? Continue reading