A shift from 'pity' to compassion

By Logeetha Balakrishnan

I was taught to believe the best way to help the poor was by giving them what they didn’t have; money, clothes, shoes, and food.  In essence, I was taught to give material things. Things they could not afford, but which I could. Then I was told that you should teach a man to fish, instead of giving him a fish. That rendered my prior way of thinking moot. 

 It all seemed simple, but it left me in a very confused state. Now before you go about saying it’s a simple matter of teaching them to farm or giving them an education, eradicating poverty is not as simple as teaching a man to fish. There is no one solution we can use to solve the problem. Every community living in poverty is entangled in a complicated web which keeps them stuck in the cycle of poverty. We are well aware they are not poor by choice but due to circumstances beyond their control. So I gave up thinking about it. Let the ‘big guys’ figure it out as surely one person cannot possibly make a difference!

 Then one day, I saw the poor in an entirely different light thanks to Professor Mohd Yunus.  He didn’t refer to the poor as those who needed our help and neither did he consider them any less  worthy of a person than you and I. What amazed me the most was he did not feel sorry for the poor. Instead, he looked at them as future entrepreneurs and started a micro finance business called the Grameen Bank (village bank). The genius in him took everything the conventional banks did and flipped their model. He lent money to women (traditionally only men qualified for loans). He lent money without any security or guarantors (something unheard of in the commercial banking world). And he lent to the poor who were traditionally not eligible due to their high risk of defaulting. He tried something completely different and succeeded. 

It was his mindset and the way he looked at the poor which allowed him to come up with a simple solution and do something no one else thought about or was willing to attempt. The poor don’t need our help, they just need to be given the same opportunities as you and I. It is about empowering them allowing them to feel valued as a member of the society. Professor Yunus helped me understand equality in a way I never thought of before. Just a small change in mindset could change the way you see the world, how you respond to problems and how you create solutions.

We spent so much time feeling ‘sorry’ for the poor that we missed the point. Make room for compassion and respect and you suddenly see someone in a whole new light; no longer a victim but someone with unlimited potential.

 There may not be one perfect way to address poverty but changing the way you think about an issue most definitely takes you a step ahead. I realise now one person is not too small to make a change and all it takes is courage to stand up and do what you feel is right despite what the rest of the world says you should be doing.