Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Do something!

Written by: on January 26, 2014

There is surely something within any decent, caring, unpretentious, human being that has lived, perhaps thrived prosperously or eked out a livelihood in their own social order that recoils and is reviled by the concept of “collateral damage” as presented by Zygmunt Bauman in the introduction to  Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age.” The first outcry is the “poor” being dehumanized into a “class” that can be criminalized as a whole because statistically it can be shown that crime rates are higher in this class.

This statistical analysis, according to Bauman, is the result of using an average as a mathematic method of classifying equality in society. This, offensively and unjustly, equates the poor with drug-pushers, smugglers (trafficking in humans), terrorists and perhaps most obscene of all, considers the poor as somehow less important and unworthy (kindle, 170). This is more disturbing as Bauman clarifies further: “Casualties are dubbed ‘collateral’ in so far as they are dismissed as not important enough to justify the costs of their prevention, or simply ‘unexpected’ because the planners did not consider them worthy of inclusion among the objects of preparatory reconnoitering (185).

I did not find an answer in the following chapters; at least I did not understand Bauman’s position concerning the answer to the dilemma of “collateral damage.” The concept must be, to some extent, framed as an injustice in society, which means there is a moral and ethical dimension to collateral damage. I struggle with this concept when it is considered, as Bauman does, in terms of inequality. From his perspective, “the extent of inequality in income or wealth distribution” (85) is the determining factor in being able to meet the needs, wellbeing and challenges confronting social authorities. This is, undeniably, a central issue with contemporary leadership in our government and a matter of debate in social, political and religious institutions.

The modern state failed to translate the needs and securities of the people from private or family interests into issues of public concern. This was evidenced by the failure of the people to assemble to “decide issues of joint and shared interests … the reforging of private concerns and desires into public issues; and, conversely, the reforging of issues of public concern into individual rights and duties (232-233). Exercising the democratic process of coming together insured economic freedom (meeting private needs), political rights and a social state expressed by fulfilling public needs (272). Bauman refers to this as early or solid modernity that when properly achieved created social rights expressed in community.

Bauman refers to passing from a solid phase of modernity to the “new” liquid phase of modernity. This was difficult to understand as Bauman does not clearly define the terms “solid” and “liquid” in relationship to modern society. I believe he is referring to the demise of modernity and the emergence of post modernity. It is the movement from the market place with security, trust, stability, and freedom to the consumerist market place driven by the desire for material possessions resulting in uncertainty and vulnerability.

Bauman reviews inequality, specifically the characteristic of inequality resulting from collateral damage, from a macro perspective. The subtitle of the book views inequality in a “global age.” In at least one reference he states collateral damage as the result of “profit-driven, uncoordinated and uncontrolled globalization” (102). In talking about the inequalities in a global economy, Bauman refers to the distribution of earnings in Tanzania (475) as an example of the inequities of a global economy that allows a huge disparity between the rich and the poor. I have been with the poor of Tanzania. In my own experience, studies, and research, I cannot comment definitively of the effect and interrelationship of the social, political and cultural on economies, let alone determine what is just and unjust and how the collateral damage might be assessed and minimized.

I do know what it means to help the poor. Neema Joeli has experienced collateral damage. Born in a mountain community, she has never experienced the “things” that make life easy; running water, electricity, any mode of transport, or even three meals a day. From her early years, the oldest of five children, she gathered the firewood for open cooking and fetched water from a significant distance. She was fortunate at age eight to receive sponsorship by an American family through a child sponsorship program. Shortly after sponsorship, a growth on her arm was determined to be a tumor and she was able to receive medical care and have it removed. Without the sponsorship, her family could never have afforded the care.

I met Neema five years after the surgery. As the new director, I went to visit her village. I was asked to take a look at Neema, she had a problem. As I first touched her shoulder to determine why she was so badly bent over; my hand rested on shoulder bones protruding two-three inches. Without any medical training, I knew immediately she had, at the age of thirteen, a severe, advanced case of scoliosis. I also knew we could help her. But I was most intrigued by just a glimpse of her left arm, kept under the blanket she wore. I gently, inoffensively tried to get a look; what I saw horrified me! Her arm was grotesque; it was discolored, deformed and hugely swollen. Although there was not a lot of pain, she indicated it was heavy and almost useless.

Immediately a back brace began to help Neema with the scoliosis. It took almost two years for me to get a good understanding of what happened with her arm. The surgery might have saved her life, but she lacked any medical care in a village that did not even have a clinic. Neema has lymphedema. The surgery had disrupted her lymphatic system a marvelous part of the human body that carries body fluids from the extremities back to the major organs where they are cleaned and properly discharged. It is a critical part of the body immune system. Because of no medical care, the lymphedema can be controlled but not reversed. She is doing very well and just graduated number one in her class primary school. She walks upright. When you meet Neema, you immediately love her sweet spirit and gracious demeanor. The collateral damage: Every day for the rest of her life, Neema must have her arm massaged and bandaged; not so bad, we might think.  Neema still lives in the mountain village without so much as a clinic.

Give to the poor. Do it unto the least of these. Sell all you have and follow me.

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