Thursday, September 8, 2011

Virtuous Global Service

Young and old, engineer and doctor, no experience and 40-year veteran - - a bad global economy still provides opportunities to do good things for people in need.  Opportunities to help others in distant and troubled lands.  One of the certainties of modern life, regardless of which economic cycle we are in, is engineers will always have opportunities to do good things on a global stage.

This is a good time for those engineers and professionals born with the altruistic gene.  The altruistic gene, combined with an adventurous spirit is even better.  In his August 23, 2011 New York Times column, David Brooks addresses Americans in service of others in the developing world (The Rugged Altruists).  Brooks discusses the three virtues of individuals that make a difference in the developing world.
  • Virtue #1 - - They posses the courage and willingness to go off to a strange place.  Teaching in a fishing village in South Korea is not Dallas, Texas.  You may not see another Western for months.  Strange defines our view of many parts of global civilization, but dangerous is probably more accurate in many places.  Need and opportunity are probably a function of strange and dangerous - - the greater the strangeness and danger, the greater the need for engineering help.  What make the British Empire great?  Entire classes and generations that were willing to go and to good in strange and dangerous.
  • Virtue #2 - - They develop deference - - the willingness to listen, and learn from the moral and intellectual storehouses of the people you are trying to help.  They don't get off the plane or boat and step into a foreign land with complacency, arrogance, and ignorance (remember that any two will get you the third one).  The greatest and most essential virtue is thanklessness, the ability to keep serving even when there are no evident rewards - - no fame, no photo op with Brad Pitt, no admiration, no gratitude.
  • Virtue #3 - - It is no just an adventure, a spiritual experience, or a cinematic moment.  It represents a non-contingent commitment to a specific place and purpose.  It is about embracing the perspectives and doing the jobs the locals define.  It is the boring stuff - - getting the water well working, and keeping it working.
If you venture into strange and dangerous - - I would recommend a great book that I recently finished.  The book How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone: The Essential Survival Guide for Dangerous Places (2011) by Rosie Garthwaite.
Garthwaite, a Brit, is a producer for Al Jazeera English (travel books and travel survival guides by Brits are at the head of the class - - 500-years of history doing and living the strange and dangerous).  The book, with material from military, ex-military, reporters, aid workers, travelers, etc., is the Boy Scout Field Book for the strange and dangerous (typical section - - "Surviving Armed Checkpoints").

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