A War That Counts Homelessness and Poverty in the United States

For a while now a good friend of mine in Seattle has been sending me photographic portraits of homeless men and women he encounters around his small office in the Ballard area of the city. While the imagery cannot hide the dreariness of their situation, what my friend tries to convey in the portraits is a sense of commonality, a shared humanity. Most of us will cross the street in order to avoid confronting a homeless person. We certainly almost never wish to make eye contact with such a person, whose circumstances of life, for whatever reason, terrifies us. But my friend is an unusual individual, selfless and sensitive to the plights of others. He is not afraid to engage with the homeless, to inquire about their life, where they come from, and what might have been the circumstances that brought them such desolation, hunger, and an abject sense of being. For surely to look deeply into the eyes on any of us we find a bit of all of us. We cannot escape ourselves.

Like my friend, there are many who are well aware that such a preponderance of privation in our country represents a societal illness becoming more and more difficult to ignore. In a way, the great ‘State of Homeless’ represents a completely separate state; think of it as the fifty-first state, the boundaries of which extend westward beyond the State of California, eastward beyond the shores of the Atlantic ocean, as far north as the Arctic circle, and as far south as the earth’s equator. It is a landless state, seamlessly woven throughout all states; one of desperation, poverty, and hunger with a population estimated roughly the same as the state of Connecticut’s 3.5 million people. At any given time, slightly over ten percent of our population is homeless. And it grows. It is difficult, of course, to know exactly what the real numbers are or how many children go to bed hungry each night in this country.

Funding for programs specifically designed to help America’s poor and hungry are being cut at a time when we are simultaneously pouring money into a country with a population nearly identical with our ‘State of Homeless’. Since the onset of the Libyan conflict, we have spent over half a billion dollars with an expected continuation of 40 million a month without any guarantee of an outcome other than it feeds enormously the military-industrial complex and global corporate interests. This figure pales compared to the money we’ve spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, billions of that unaccounted for. It has been estimated that the money spent in these uncertain wars could have eradicated poverty and homelessness in the United States for the next century.

We would all do well to read, again and again, President’s Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech. Equally important as his warning about the danger of allowing the military-industrial complex (corporatism) to grow too large, are those words found in his closing paragraph. “We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

He also wrote, “In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.” Today we can hardly imagine such cooperation for the greater good of the American people.

We would be foolishly in denial to believe there is no direct correlation between our wars and our homeless. Nor should we ignore the enormous percentage of US veterans who find themselves bereft and discarded, living in poverty on the streets.

There was a time, not so long ago, in this country and in others, those afflicted by poverty and hunger could come to a home in search of charity-a barn or back porch in which to sleep, a hot meal, kind words, and perhaps a day or two of work. Today most of us believe homeless people are nothing more than derelicts, alcoholics, mentally unstable, human debris.

The truth is quite different; the leading cause of homelessness is unaffordable shelter. The absence of jobs and low wages are other contributors of homelessness. Within the ‘State of Homeless’, there is also a high rate of mental illness and alcoholism. However with better education, social services and the availability of decent and affordable health care much of these contributing factors are treatable and the consequences of homelessness and anti-social behavior could be better prevented. In a way, it is an ongoing social conundrum. For thousands of families living on the edge, stress is a crippling factor disintegrating the bonds that are necessary for healthy family cohesion; studies have shown that stress alone can trigger the on-set of devastating psychoses in children. Many men and women, living on the streets today, diagnosed with mental illness, could have been treated at an early age and still could be.

We blame one another to such an extent that the concept of ‘government’ has become an alien and negative separate entity. But ultimately is there anyone to blame but us? A man who falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into a tree, should not blame the car or the tree.

If government is less or more than the common rulebook agreed upon by the majority, the pages sewn together by democratic principals to protect the commonality of all, we have failed. When millions of our children suffer hunger and poverty in a country as wealthy as the United States, we have failed.

Rather than fighting foreign wars, which ultimately serve the already full coffers of the rich, our focus should be on wars against homelessness, poverty, and hunger in our own country. Our most effective weapon is our voice and our vote and we must fight for those who can’t.

The Case For Increased Civic Awareness & Improved Communication-Education And Advocacy

Since Tanzania got independence more than four decades ago, poverty, ignorance and disease have remained outstanding thorns in the back of any government in power. Until today, these so-called arc enemies can be seen, read and experienced on many faces. At the same time, as a member of the international community, Tanzania has committed itself to achieving internationally accepted standards related to these very issues, like the Millennium Development Goals. This is why the government came up with the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty, trading under the Kiswahili acronym of MKUKUTA.

The implementation of such programmes revolves on the axis of tackling growth, income and non-income poverty and ensuring good governance and accountability. This is what downloads everything to the local government level of action. This is why the Local Government Reform Programme is such a vital tool.

The four areas due to be addressed, under the programme, involve making fundamental changes in the way powers and resources are allocated within government. No where in the world have such proposals been implemented without encountering problems.
The decentralization by devolution process within the environs of the local government in Tanzania is a massive undertaking. On top of that, it requires the participation of a wide range of stakeholders at national, regional and local levels. It cannot leave anybody behind. Even the input of ‘those who would lose their stake (stake-losers?) in the process is required.

As of now, there is a strong platform for local government reform in Tanzania. On it are central government and line ministry representatives, the regional administration itself and its Association of Local Authorities of Tanzania (ALAT), the civil society, academic institutions e.t.c.

Because of the weak financial muscle of the country, the so-called development partners and donors have reserved seats. They need to fully not only understand but also appreciate the programme if they are to explain it to their taxpayers at home before embarking on supporting it.

At the end of the day, whether this programme is to succeed or not will depend on the performance at the ground level. And that is the crux of the matter.

The extent to which this programme can succeed or fail will depend on the amount of information available to all the stakeholders, not a few selected
ones. Every means of carrying information across must be exploited. That is, seminars, conferences, print media, electronic media and even drama so as to achieve the following:

To increase people’s awareness on the reform so that it can get wider understanding and, therefore, support.
To identify areas of success in one area and publicize them as a way of opening up eyes of other performers in other areas.

To identify aspects those have not been fully understood by stakeholders and mount their popularization programmes through various media.

To pick positive and negative experiences from other countries that have tried to reform their local government system to help keep the Tanzania exercise on track.

To monitor the democratization processes and disseminate information on it as one of the major instruments for attaining good governance and accountability at the level of councils.
Therefore there has got to be increased civic awareness, improved communication, education and advocacy on the proposed local government system. A comprehensive media strategy must be put in place and vigorously implemented.
The whole country must be covered. No district should feel having been left out of the process. Experiences from one district must only be an eye opener for others. They are not items of copying like a blotting paper. The districts are supposed to work out their reform programmes drawing on their own circumstances.

Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction – Making Growth Work For the Poor

1. Introduction

The question of whether economic growth leads to poverty reduction is a subject of major contention today. The neo-liberal view to this issue is that growth is good for the poor, and that poverty can be alleviated through economic growth. In this essay, I argue that unless the poor participate meaningfully in the economy and the constraints that hinder their participation are removed, growth on its own cannot help in poverty reduction. The state should also play a major role in making the poor benefit from growth by pursuing pro-poor policies. In the subsequent paragraphs, I define what pro-poor growth is; spell out the constraints to pro-poor growth and what can be done to make growth benefit the poor.

2. Definition of concept: pro-poor growth

According to Ravillion and Datt (1991:19), pro-poor growth can be defined as ‘growth that involves and benefits the poor’. In other words, pro-poor growth requires the maximum participation of marginalized groups in all sectors. Ravallion and Datt further argue that pro-poor growth is, inter alia, characterized by what they call ‘deliberate transfers to the ultra poor who are not able to lift themselves out of poverty. In essence, the argument that they are advancing is that the poor need help or intervention in order for them to benefit from growth. This means that pro-poor growth is a deliberate intervention to make the poor benefit from growth rather than leaving the poor to the fate of the ‘invisible’ hand of the market. It has to do with setting an enabling environment in which the poor have the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the economy.

According to Kydd et al (2001:10) pro-growth will occur when the following conditions exist:

 Price or productivity increases in tradable products with high average share in the poor’s expenditure.

 Price and productivity increase in tradable products with high labour inputs by the poor.

 Changes in technology or reduced barriers of entry, allowing the poor to engage in production of non-tradables which they could not previously engage in or

 Gains in the significant numbers of non-poor, which lead to expanded demands for goods or services, produced by the poor as a result of upstream or expenditure linkages.

It is important to note that not all growth is pro-poor. Here are some of the characteristics or aspects of growth which are not pro-poor:

 Disparities in wealth distribution

 Increases in rural poverty

 Growth that ignores agricultural development despite the role that it plays in poverty alleviation

 Lack of investment in health and education, which play a critical role in poverty alleviation

 Failure to mitigate inequalities and lack of programmes aimed at addressing the needs of the poor (www.seurities.com).

As Acocella (1998:162) notes, it is critical to remember that growth does not always lead to human development. Growth may occur without any significant impact on human development, especially with regard to the poor. Acocella further argues that real development or growth occurs when there is improvement in the well being of people. Growth that does not lead to improvement in the welfare of people cannot be said to be developmental in nature. Genuine growth, as Ferro et al (2002:4) note, should lead to human development, and this entails ‘empowering the poor to contribute to and benefit from this growth’. It is clear that pro-poor growth does not occur automatically without the implementation of the right policies that will be instrumental in facilitating its manifestation. There are polices and practices that may hinder pro-poor growth from taking place. I examine a few in the next section.

3. Constraints to pro-poor growth

For pro-poor growth to occur in any society, it is important to ensure that all the barriers that prevent the poor from reaching their goals are removed. Failure or reluctance to deal with such barriers may frustrate the progress of poor people and may ultimately hinder any poverty reduction strategy from successfully addressing the issue of poverty. Here are some of the constraints that can negatively affect pro-poor growth:

3.1 Inequality and lack of access to market

It is difficult to pursue pro-poor policies in countries characterized by inequality. Stewart (1995:209) argues that it is difficult to develop pro-poor policies in inegalitarian societies. He gives an example of inegalitarian societies such as Ghana, Mexico and Philippines, where he argues that growth has not made any impact on the poor. These societies are contrasted with Indonesia ‘with a more egalitarian structure to start with and a more pro-poor pattern of growth’. Other examples given are East Asian societies, which due to their effective policies of dealing with inequality were able to reduce the level of poverty in a dramatic way. This means that there is a relationship between poverty and inequality. May (2002:2) also shows that policies of inequality pursued by the apartheid government in South Africa were not good for poverty reduction as they excluded certain groups from participating in the economy of the country. The propagation of inequality led to ‘loss of assets such as land and livestock and simultaneously the denial of opportunities to develop these assets through limiting access to markets, infrastructure and education.

The problem with inequality is that it results in social exclusion where certain groups are denied opportunities or services. The exclusion of the poor from participating meaningfully in the economy can negatively affect their well being. In an economy where inequality is low, the poor will tend to get a higher share of the benefits from growth as compared to an economy which is characterized by a high degree of inequality. As Ravallion and Datt (1997:7) show, ‘inequality in the ownership of physical and human assets are likely to influence the prospects of poor people to participate in economic growth’. Policies that are pro-poor will ensure that the poor have access to markets and infrastructure. It is clear that in cases where there is no equality amongst the different socio-economic classes, reliance on market forces and the invisible hand of Adam Smith to meet basic needs is merely wishful thinking.

3.2 Fiscal constraints

Governments, especially in the developing countries are finding it hard to pursue pro-poor growth policies and approaches for poverty alleviation due to fiscal constraints. Structural Adjustment programmes are in most instances making matters worse. The reality is that governments are usually faced with the challenge of having to reduce expenditure in social services, which are supposed to benefit the poor. This means that less money is spent on important services such as health, education and other basic services. Cuts in government expenditure directly affect the poor (Howard 2001:57). However, it is important to note that the state is faced with global challenges and constraints in its attempt to pursue policies that are good for poverty alleviation. There is global pressure for the state to take a less ‘directive’ role in the economy.

3.3 Reducing the role of the state

The liberalization of markets which goes with globalization is among other things advocating for the rolling back of the state, the repeal of restrictions on prices and on quantities moved and stored. As Howard (2001:57) rightly notes, the ‘liberalization of financial markets increases poverty and inequality’. As part of globalization, governments are forced to liberalize their markets. However, the critical question is whether liberalization of markets benefit the poor. There are mixed reactions to this. There are those who view globalization as beneficial to the poor, especially with regard to opportunities it offers for trade and new markets. On the other hand there are those who view it as harmful.

As Levinson (2001:11) shows, globalization ‘benefits the poor in some countries and harm those in other countries’. Although there is a general call for ‘rolling back the state’, in order to give way to the markets to work (if ever they work), the state has a role to play especially pertaining to things that individuals cannot do for themselves. It is common especially among the poor to find people who cannot participate in the labour market due to old age, infirmity, chronic illness or otherwise incapacitated, socially excluded or discriminated. The poverty of such people according to Streeten (1995:253) cannot be removed or alleviated by relying on the market, but by deliberate ‘pressure for social services and transfer payments and elimination of discrimination’. The emphasis on reducing the role of the state in the economy can have negative impact on pro-poor growth.

For pro-poor growth to take place, the state should play a crucial role in the redistribution of resources and opportunities through the transfer of assets, prioritization of the poor in public spending and in managing market liberalization to protect the livelihoods of vulnerable people. As Ferro et al (2002:19) point out, ‘government is an instrument of the people in the development process’. Hence government can play a crucial role in pro-poor growth by developing the right policies for addressing poverty.

4. What can be done to benefit the poor?

The following are some of the things that can be done to benefit the poor:

 There is need to focus on development of human capital, especially among the poor in order to prepare them to participate meaningfully in the economy.

 The poor must have better access to markets, especially with regard to credit

 There is need to correct biases against the poor in public spending, taxation trade and regulatory environment.

5. Conclusion

Pro-poor growth policies are essential for the meaningful reduction of poverty. The 2015 target of halving income poverty can only be achieved if countries can adopt pro-poor growth strategies. It would be difficult to attain the 2015 target without ‘pro-poor shift in distributional patterns’ (Mutume 2000). Something must be done to improve the position of the poor by providing opportunities that will make access to markets easier for them. Worth noting is that even in cases where markets work, they may not always work in favour of the poor given the constraints discussed above.

If these constraints are not dealt with or removed, growth will have no meaningful impact on the lives of the poor. There is need to learn from past failures regarding the relationship between growth and poverty alleviation. Sen (1986, cited in Sachs 1991:292) illustrate this clearly: ‘country after country has learned the hard way that the so called trickle down theory is fallacious, that growth can be immiserizing, that famines also happen in periods of boom when people’s entitlement does not allow them to buy and/or produce the food necessary to keep them alive’

Given the level of poverty in the world today, there is therefore need for change in strategy or approach in dealing with poverty reduction by making growth pro-poor. This entails, inter alia, an understanding that growth on its own cannot address poverty. The Director of the World Bank, Ian Goldin indicated the importance of pro-poor growth: ‘we have come to understand that economic growth, though necessary, is not enough to deal with poverty’ (Sunday Times, 1 September 2002: 15).

When it Comes to Peace and Poverty So Much Depends Upon the Determination of the Leadership

A few small changes in the environment could do so much to alleviate a lot of the suffering in nations like Uganda and Kenya and the principles could be applied in other parts of the world where there is such appalling poverty. Take a moment to consider the vital role which leadership plays in this whole area. Many are desperately looking for powerful practical leadership when it comes to their environment and circumstances.

I am writing as a Christian, as a believer in Jesus Christ, and I rely upon the anointing and presence of the Holy Spirit to guide me and direct me when I go to speak to those who Pastor the poor and who have given their lives to caring for the poor with such genuine and sincere compassion.

These men are leaders I admire, and I seek to encourage them in all they attempt to achieve, as they work for righteousness and justice.

Some of these men and women spell faith, ‘RISK’. They risk their lives day by day as they reach out to those have nothing and who have to scavenge on the tips for something to eat.

I may go for three or four weeks but these local leaders are giving leadership of such high quality and when I see the work they are involved in and what they are seeking to do to rescue those is serious need it can and does bring tears to my eyes.

How can men in the United Kingdom and America accept such absurd sums as ‘bonuses’ when half the world is living on a pound a day or around a dollar a day.

When I see men and women following Jesus Christ and serving in the slums and orphanages, day after day, setting such an example, why do the government agencies not come alongside and give some extra help, instead of running around in expensive cars? There are leaders and there are ‘leaders’. You know what I mean.

I am not against expensive cars but I am against poverty and suffering.

Very often promotion to position of power and authority can introduce men to corruption. This is nothing other than sin.

Prophets seldom get promoted. Prophets get pelted!

We hear from the United Nations declarations concerning peace and poverty, when you consider these two words, we come to realise that peace and poverty can never co-exist.

Conflict brings poverty. War brings poverty. Fighting results in poverty as resources are squandered.

This is where the quality of governmental leadership and the leadership within the true Church of Jesus Christ is so crucially important.

Anger and hatred destroy so many lives not just in Kenya and Uganda but we see it in the United Kingdom too. There is a solution, but how many really want to know how these issues can be resolved, so that suffering may be alleviated and poverty positively confronted.

We have had so many words but words do not soothe aching bellies.

Again, so much depends upon the determination of the leadership.

Sandy Shaw

Sandy Shaw is Pastor of Nairn Christian Fellowship, Chaplain at Inverness Prison, and Nairn Academy, and serves on The Children’s Panel in Scotland, and has travelled extensively over these past years teaching, speaking, in America, Canada, South Africa, Australia, making 12 visits to Israel conducting Tours and Pilgrimages, and most recently in Uganda and Kenya, ministering at Pastors and Leaders Seminars, in the poor areas surrounding Kampala, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.

The Elements That Make the Key Difference Between Success and Poverty

What makes the difference between success and poverty? This is an issue that I have been mulling over in my mind for a very long time. Poverty is a state that has been with mankind since the beginning of the ages. Even in the time of Jesus thousands of years ago, there was already the poor among them.

Everywhere in the world in every country, global efforts are being held for poverty eradication. Most often, I see organizations and kindhearted individuals handing out money and food items to the poor, and where possible provide homes and shelter. While these efforts are noble, I do wonder about the effectiveness of it.

Personally, I find that the only way for a person to climb out of poverty, is an intense personal desire to succeed! Some people can be rather contented living on welfare and receiving handouts. In fact, some may consider it their right as the poor to receive gifts from people they deem richer than them. Poverty is a state of mind that continues to enslave people. For as long as they think that the world owes them a living, they would continue to stay in that same old sad state of life.

They do not break out of the chains of poverty because they deem themselves incapable, handicapped (whether real or imaginary), so they do not even try to make an effort. Any failed attempt that they make only reinforces their belief that they are not able to do it, not able to become successful and subscribe to the powerful withholding belief that success belongs only to others who are more talented, more intelligent and more capable.

The only way to break out of poverty is to change the mindset of the people and empower them with powerful beliefs that they are not helpless and that they can create value and contribute to the society regardless of their condition. They can make a success out of themselves.

The only real way to help the poor is to give them a real education and the opportunity for a job or a trade. All academic, skill and technical programs must include personal development programs which develop the human attitudes and radically change their mindset and implant a belief system for success.

Education and the Complete Individual

Education is something that many have said much about. Most of these are complex or vague. Consider the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s saying that education is ‘an ornament in prosperity’ and ‘a refuge in adversity’. There have been a great many attempts to explain this description, but none have quite succeeded in satisfying my curiosity. Alternatively, this is what the English essayist Joseph Addison has to say on education: What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul. This too, has a great many explanations and elaborations. But does it really tell us what education is? Does it tell us why we need education? Not really, since the concept of the soul is, till date, a shadowy area. So how can we begin to comprehend what everyone claims is essential to life nowadays? To put it simply, education is a process of training our mind so that we can apply it in a field of our choice: which is why we have education not as a single seamless entity, but as a whole made up of various divisions: music education, scientific and technological education, art education, even teacher education!

Education can be considered similar to picking and eating a fruit. Picking a particular fruit on the tree is akin to choosing a field to get an education of. When we bite into it, we get our first taste of the subject. As we chew on the bitten portion, we begin to understand its various aspects – the tastes, textures, intricacies and complexities of it – and when we are ready to move on to the next portion, we swallow what we have assimilated so far so that it can be used for further application. The tree we get the fruit from is the entire body of past thinkers’ teachings and the voice that tells us which fruit to pick is the interpreter of that knowledge: the teacher.

Throughout the lifelong course of education (no, it’s not like school or college which ends after a fixed period of time), we get to know about things that always were, still are and always will be around us, waiting to be recognized and acknowledged. Light plays a central role in education – both literally and metaphorically – for visual inputs are the best learnt and without light – of the sun or electrical – we would be missing out on a whole world of knowledge. In fact, this is where phrases like ‘light of knowledge’, ‘throw light on the matter’, ‘kept in the dark’ and so on came from.

You might be thinking, how can we narrow the infinite field of knowledge to select what we will need or want to know? This is where the part on ‘training the mind’ comes in. The mind, as psychology tells us, is the centre of cognitive faculties which enables consciousness, thinking, perception and judgement. It is the kitchen for the information we acquire, where we can season and prepare the bits and pieces of data into comprehensive knowledge. Like any good kitchen, the mind has infinite capabilities (which is often the reason for confusion among us youth when it comes to deciding on a particular field to ‘specialize in’ for higher education) and therefore needs to be trained in order to make this choice clearer as every good chef needs to know what to or not to use for a dish. Unfortunately, the world we live in does not allow us to experiment with our capabilities without being ostracized or reduced to penury. Thus the need for specialization. And thus the need for education.

Another obvious question would be: how can we get education? It’s easier to use metaphors and analogies when describing something like this, but a parallel in the real world is sometimes hard to provide. One answer could be a school, college or university. There are also other means to formally get education. Such as home-schooling, distance learning etc. All of these provide us with a forum to exchange knowledge – where we can gain as well as give. This is a guided and restricted form of education, especially in the Indian scenario. It is difficult to find a good school where we can tailor our education according to our needs and interests. Often, we fail to avail of the opportunity even if it is within our reach. Peer pressure, our parents’ and elders’ wants, whims and wishes and societal trends all play a role in influencing us. And this very often has an adverse effect with the student being unable to cope with the contradictory inputs and buckling under the combined pressure. An educational system where students can fulfil their desires and not bow to transient trends is necessary for proper development and realization of one’s full potential. An example of how this can help could be the famous English poet John Keats. Trained to become a doctor, Keats renounced his apothecary’s license to follow his desire, eventually creating a path for himself that no one else has quite been able to match.

Education is not just a pathway to money, as is often considered nowadays. The fact that it provides a doorway to affluence is secondary. Education is first and foremost, I believe, a source of joy and pleasure that is also a means of enhancing our capabilities. It is a landing that provides us with infinite doorways to choose to continue into, each leading to a different yet interconnected walk of life (after all, how can we forget that science and philosophy, despite being ‘at odds with one another’ go back beyond human comprehension?).

The needs of the human in order to lead a productive and satisfactory life have long been debated. Yet one point stands clear in this debate: along with the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter, education is extremely necessary, especially in today’s material world. After all, without education, one cannot gain employment and without employment, one cannot fulfil his/her basic needs and is considered a failure by modern society.

The knowledge we gain through our guided education is definitely useful for life in the sense that they will be required to succeed in gaining and maintaining employment, a must to be accepted in society. Not having a job is enough to have you labelled lazy, a failure, even weird or odd. And any employer will require you to have a thorough knowledge of your field, which is easily available for the taking through education.

Education provides us with an endless canvas. How much of it we put into use is up to us. New fields seem to emerge everyday – parapsychology, particle physics, noetics, to name a few. Although relatively ‘unknown’ or ‘obscure’, these have as much importance as the others we know of. The flood of engineers and accountants that India is facing seems to know no end. Easy money is apparently all people seems to think of. They are becoming flat characters in the play of life: although given names like ‘security of future’, lust for a fat wallet seems to be the only motivation.

On the other hand, there are billions of people around the world who want to get an education but are unable to due to poverty, geographical isolation, familial conditions or ignorance. Like the Lady Law, education is blind to the faults or favours of those who take a sip from its pool. The people who are not able to get to its banks because they are dragged back by the brambles of shortcomings – economic, social or cultural – have to endure a life full of superstition, fear, hopelessness, helplessness, poverty and exclusion. The literate but uneducated are considered equal to the illiterate as their life pretty much goes to waste (not everyone is the Old English poet Cædmon, after all). We must, however, keep in mind that this ‘education’ is totally career-oriented – a trait that has emerged in the past decades.

Let us now consider another angle. So far we talked of the relevance of education in the tangible corporeal world. But, being human beings, the intangible yet equally expansive world of our feelings is equally important. Education plays a major role in helping us find our niche here as well. We humans are inherently social. Even ‘loners’ have at least one person in their confidence. In fact, the more solitary one is, the stronger the bond is with those that person does interact with regularly. Even those who have large friend circles have an inner circle of those who they trust. So, where do these friends come from? Most of our friends and acquaintances come from school, college and our workplace and education is the line connecting these dots to one another. We go to school and college to get an education, as do those who become our friends. We talk about things that we have learnt somewhere down the line: academically, through music, film, news bulletins, books, etc. These, too, are an important part of our education. Academia alone is not enough to make us a complete person. It is definitely important, but our character and personality depends on our education as well. As we grow up, we learn new things and experience various feelings and emotions. Events and situations, too, play a part in education. Growing up, we have quarrelled with our parents. These sometimes go downhill over time and ruin the parent-child relationship. Alternatively, it can also teach us to give people space and motivate us into trying to understand before blindly contradicting. Regardless of that outcome, it teaches us what not to do when we take up the mantle of parenthood. Whether we put it to use is, of course, a completely different question altogether.

Besides academic information, schools also impart social education. They teach us, sometimes by pointing out our mistakes, what we should or shouldn’t do in a particular situation. For instance, we learn to stand up and greet a teacher when he/she enters our classroom. We also learn to respect our higher-ups and when to follow instructions without question. This gives us an idea of the norms of society.

Education teaches us control. It tells us what is acceptable behaviour in a certain environment and what isn’t. Experience, which is yet another form of education, often also teaches us when to exercise caution and when to be spontaneous. For example, at an informal gathering like a house party, it is acceptable – even expected – to wear casual clothes. Also, we can be freer in expressing ourselves: we can talk over one another, raise our voices etc. In an office party or a similar formal gathering, on the other hand, a certain code of conduct is expected to be followed. A professional front – in both mannerism and appearance – has to be maintained. Formal attire is required and an unruly or unkempt appearance must be avoided. We also learn these things through books, entertainment, word of mouth etc. Education and its imparting is therefore an intimate and implicit part of our social life as well.

Education is a major source of mental contentment. There is a simple, innocent pleasure in gaining knowledge. As sentient living beings, we humans are inherently curious. And fulfilling that curiosity paves the way for further questions to be answered, for the thirst for knowledge to become a quest for more. Also, considering the level of competition nowadays, any and every little snippet of information in addition to what our peers know gives us an edge in the rat race of modern life. And success because of that little edge gives us a great deal of satisfaction, joy and pride: the boost to our self-esteem that is essential to our well-being, mental and, thereby, physical.