Read Planet of Slums over the Christmas Holiday. The book is an historical survey on the creation of slums in the Third World. It offered a ten-thousand-foot view of the phenomena, and as such did not give a look into the lives of the people living there, but instead focused on the political, environmental and social movements of prominent slums around the globe. The book offered me few key insights.
Insight 1: Those of us who live in the middle – middle management, middling education, middle class – have a tendency, like the worst back seat drivers, to critique the inevitable failures of the systems around us. We judge the architects and technicians of centralized programs and suggest that if we were in charge, the results would be different. However, the book clearly showed that regardless of the political, cultural or economic persuasion of the people on top, the outcomes of their plans were the same. For more than a century, across every continent, whether the leaders were communists, socialists, liberals, conservatives, despots or revolutionaries, city planners have tried to improve “shantytowns”, but have made little progress either in stopping them from growing or improving the lives of people who live in them.
Insight 2: We have very little imagination for “making a difference” aside from top down centralized planning. Despite showing example after example of failed centralized planning, the author’s only solution was more centralized planning. Likewise, in a recent event at Stanford Chamath Palihapitiya made headlines by saying out loud what we all knew, Facebook intentionally addicts people. While he was remorseful for what he did at Facebook, his advice to the gathered Stanford students was to find a way to make enough money to earn a place among the world’s 150 richest people, and from there change society. On the one hand, he bemoans the human programming done by Facebook, but on the other hand, his only solution is to copy what he did at Facebook, only this time it will turn our differently.
Insight 3: If we want to help people, we have to enter into their lives. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, who stumbled across a man beaten, robbed and left for dead. The Samaritan took time out from his journey, found the man medical care and paid for his recovery. He told this story to show how we can identify and love our neighbor. When he finished the parable, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”