I saved an article* I read a few years ago by a man who had spent his life traveling the world to solve humanity’s problems. For 40 years, Thomas Dichter worked for such organizations as the Peace Corps and the World Bank. He saw up close how the money was spent and how effective the projects were. As he looks back at his efforts he has to admit that the problems he had worked so hard to solve still continue to persist.
Why is this? Why, when we come in with shovels and seeds, computers and condoms, teaching literacy and legal reform, does it not make the impact we intended? One thing Thomas points out in his book, Despite Good Intentions: Why Development Assistance to the Third World Has Failed, is that we plan and fund what we think the countries need, instead of basing our efforts on what the countries tell us they want and what they can sustain. In that article I clipped and saved, Thomas stated, “We put money into projects before they’re ready, make partners out of those with little management capacity and create dependency when we wanted self-reliance.”
The reasons for our failure to make real change, despite our considerable efforts, all come down to consciousness. By this I mean the differing views of reality at different levels of awareness. The world looks different to individuals, groups, communities and countries depending their level of awareness or consciousness. Even truth can be subjective if we look at it this way. If you consider the level of consciousness that manifested a particular problem and then compare that with the level of consciousness of those who are trying to solve that problem, you begin to see why these problems persist. There’s a disconnect. Each level of consciousness has its own worldview, its own truth, that’s unique to that level. People cannot easily leap from one level up several levels on a map of consciousness. They can usually move up one level at a time.
Efforts to solve such perpetual problems as poverty, prejudice, wars, crime, abuse, ignorance, famine, violence, theft and corruption would be so much more effective if we met the people we wanted to help where they are now, at their current level of consciousness, and then showed them how to get to the next level. Sometimes, helping them to the next level can be as simple as helping them see the relationship between their thoughts and behaviors and their lives. Sometimes it can be as simple as introducing the concept that hope is a good thing, without introducing complex machinery and our own values. We can see the consciousness of, say, prejudice and help people move from their current level of consciousness to the next higher level by perhaps using a model like they have in Ireland, teaming Catholic teenagers with Protestant ones for a common goal.
Coaxing individuals to transcend levels helps them experience more success in life, as well as greater well-being. Say someone is just moving up to the level of holding a steady job. If we were to try and teach him about retirement and estate planning, we will fail him, because the next course of action, or topic to tackle, would be simple banking skills. This actually has helped me look at the suffering in a different light. One that makes it easier to feel there is action we can take, and as we rise in our own consciousness, more answers on how to help will appear.
* Orlando Sentinel Feb. 13, 2005
(This is a reprint from my former blog, but I thought worth posting again)