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Nicholas Kristof, you’ve (almost) redeemed yourself

July 13, 2009

…Well, not really, because androcentrism sucks, but I love your new column.

Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water, has a cool story, which Kristof explains. After years of a fast-paced lifestyle, he had an existential breakdown in South America and abandoned his New York job to work with… Mercy Ships! For those of you who do not have the privilege of knowing her, one of my best friends and roommates, Elle (she’s currently looking for a job – anyone want to hire a top notch labor and delivery nurse?) grew up on Mercy Ships, which still employs both of her parents. It’s cool to read about how the organization is continuing to have such a positive impact on people that it serves and who volunteer. He apparently never looked back, and went on to start charity: water as a way of living out all that he had learned as a Mercy Ships volunteer.

But here’s my issue (don’t act surprised, you knew it was coming): Kristof tends to tell really dramatic stories about people who are making a huge difference in the world. Does he set the bar too high? As in, does he make living in pursuit of justice out to be a lifestyle reserved only for those willing to sacrifice it all? Does everyone need to quit their jobs and start an NGO for us to have a world with less preventable suffering?

I started asking those questions with images of reusable grocery bags and fair trade coffee in mind, but… then I thought of Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Amado Lopez, the Jesuits who were martyred in El Salvador in 1989 for their unwavering commitment to the poor. And what about Dorothy Stang, another awesome progressive Catholic, who was martyred just four years ago in Brazil for her work with the poor and for the rainforest? Are reusable grocery bags and fair trade coffee really enough if we’re ruined for life?

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