By Donella Meadows
–December 25, 1986–
Here are two simple stories for the holiday season and a question. The question is, what is the moral? What point do these stories make?
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Bobbi Jo Free of Meredith, New Hampshire, is a mother, a toy-designer, and a businesswoman. When she first heard the devastating statistics of world hunger, she thought of her grandfather’s farm in Kingsburg, California, where she spent four years of her childhood.
“It was a happy time for me, a time of giving and sharing. Troubles got taken care of because people just worked together with energy and love. I thought, if the world could work that way, there need be no hunger.”
Bobbi Jo thought up a children’s story about the Magical Village of Kingsburg, where every child knows his or her love makes a difference, and every child is loved. In Kingsburg are helpful animals called Pasture Pals. From the story Bobbi Jo created designs for stuffed farm animals — a cow, a sheep, and a pig.
The Pasture Pals line is now going into production and will be out in March. Five percent of the gross receipts will be donated to The Heifer Project. The Heifer Project gives real animals to poor families all over the world, along with instruction and veterinary support. Each family returns its animal’s first offspring, to be passed along to another family.
“There’s a tag on each Pasture Pal telling the child who receives it that he or she has helped a hungry family. The people who get a real animal can accept the gift with integrity because they give it back with the first birth.”
“The idea of making your business make a difference spreads by itself. I was explaining Pasture Pals to a Japanese distributor, telling him it would produce real animals for poor families but that the money would come out of my profit, not his. He asked what he could do. He wanted to help too.”
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Caitlin and Sarah Hawkins of Strafford, Vermont, were in fifth and sixth grade when their church had a program about Cambodian refugees. They organized a group called Strafford Kids Against World Hunger and put on tea dinners to raise money for Cambodia. At a tea dinner you get your parents to come, you serve them tea — just tea — and you have a discussion about world hunger. Then you ask them to contribute the price of the dinner they would have eaten that night.
The first tea dinner was six years ago. Since then the Strafford Kids Against World Hunger have put on a “hunger banquet” every year. This year more than 50 people came and donated $520, which went to Oxfam America.
At the banquet the guests drew tickets of three different colors. Most of the tickets entitled their holders to sit on the floor and be served rice and tea. Some people drew tickets that let them sit at a table and have vegetables with their rice. A few got tickets that added placemats and silverware, meatloaf and milk and apple strudel.
The kids designed a logo and invitation letters on a Macintosh computer. They buttonholed people and talked them into coming. They cooked the dinner and cleaned up. After dinner they led games in which everyone learned the basic facts about world hunger. This year most of the organizers were seventh and eighth graders. Caitlin and Sarah will graduate from high school soon, and they’re training the younger generation to carry on the tradition.
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What’s the point?
I read these stories to a sample of friends, and here are their reactions:
– at this time of year all columnists get maudlin, – there’s something depressing about rich kids buying plush animals or skipping one meal, so a few poor kids can have barely enough to eat, – whoever you are, whatever age, you can make a difference in the world just by living your ordinary life in a generous, global-minded way, – some people are aware and giving in this world, but most aren’t, – it’s amazing what futile gestures soft-hearted liberals will make just to feel good about themselves, – if everyone acted like that, hunger would end, – not one person in a thousand will ever act like that, and hunger will never end, – that gives me an idea for something I could do in my own life to help end hunger, – that makes me feel guilty and greedy, – I already gave at the office.
Well, you can draw whatever moral you like. My own has changed since I first wrote these stories down. Originally I just wanted to acknowledge some ordinary people acting out of spontaneous generosity to do a little good in the world. But then, after all these reactions, I came to a different conclusion: it’s hard to express simple caring in this complicated, calculating, untrustful world.
Fortunately, Bobbi Jo and Caitlin and Sarah are not stopped by the cynical social conversation that greets any generous act. They don’t worry about what the rest of us think. They don’t feel the need to solve all problems everywhere before they undertake to solve a few problems somewhere. They don’t wait around while we all do a cost/benefit analysis on their kindness.
The least that we sophisticated, doubting folks could do when we run across folks like them is to keep our bah-humbug reactions to ourselves and wish them well. And maybe, having quieted all the self-paralyzing skepticism within ourselves, we could humbly follow their example.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1986