Injustice and the Art of Car Repair

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A few months ago, I experienced a series of events that caused me to pause and reflect on some of the systems of injustice in our world.  It all started early in the morning when I turned the ignition to our '98 Corolla and it failed to start.  The short version is that after half of a box of baking soda, 5 cups of water, $6.53 worth of hardware, and an hour and half of my time...

our Corolla was back to fully operational!

My temptation after fixing the car, both quickly and frugally, was to pat myself on the back for some excellent problem solving.  However, upon further reflection, I realize that there are many "luxuries" that have afforded me the opportunity for this apparently effortless fix.

I began to contemplate all that went on "behind the scenes" that led to the successful repair of our car.  Some of these statements will ring numbingly obvious, but try to ponder everything that took place on that March morning with a fresh set of eyes...

First thing's first, I own a car (less than 13% of the world owns a car ).  I needed to use my car because I was heading to work. I have a job (40% of Haitians are unemployed with another 40% informally employed ). I was able to email my boss to tell him I would be late.  I have a smart phone with email capability.  I have a job with enough flexibility that I can come in late for an emergency without reprimand. So even before we get started with any triumphal solution, it's clear that the privileges that I have are what led to the problem in the beginning. 

Back to the situation - the car won't start.  What could be wrong with the car?  The next step could have simply been to call AAA (another classic example of a societal infrastructure luxury) and have them tow my car to the shop to have it fixed.  But instead, let's dig in further to some of the things I had "going my way."  I have a friend who is very knowledgeable about fixing cars.  I was able to call that friend (on my previously mentioned phone) and ask his advice. It is also important to mention that I was fortunate enough to be brought up in a family environment where I've been encouraged to apply myself, problem solve, etc.

So after a brief assessment, I was able to identify the problem and make a plan for a solution. I needed to buy some hardware to fix my car.   Let's keep going..

-I owned a second vehicle, which I was able to drive to the store.

-I had the money (less than $7) to buy the new parts to fix the car.  (Half of the world’s population live on less than $2.50 per day )

-I was literate and could read the packaging to find the right hardware to the part that was broken.  (Only 62% of Haitians can read/write – and it drops even lower if you are a woman )

-I was physically able to fix the car.

-I had a set of tools.

-I had access to electricity to power a light so that I can work in the dark.

And the list goes on…

As I revisit the full story of everything that happened that morning, I am quickly reminded of two truths:  1) I am rich and 2) I didn’t become rich solely because of my own choices, morality, and work ethic.  How about you…

Are you are rich?

I am in no way attempting to minimize any real problems that may be currently facing.  But if you have found your way to reading this blog, my guess is that you, like me, are rich.  Maybe not in comparison with your next-door neighbors or close friends, but in comparison to the world you are rich. Take some time now to pause and reflect on the resources, means, health, education, employment, and opportunities that you have been given.  It is important to maintain a healthy perspective on the reality of your life.  It will allow you to be creative to find ways that you can make a difference in the lives of those not so fortunate.  

And if so, are you rich solely because of your own choices, morality, and work ethic?

Was success with the car something I had done on my own?  Was it because I had worked harder and smarter to succeed than billions of other people?  Absolutely not!!!!  In his book Generous Justice , Timothy Keller reminds us, “If you have money, power, and status today, it is due to the century and place in which you were born, to your talents and capacities and health, none of which you earned. In short, all your resources are in the end the gift of God.

As a further testimony to fact that prosperity is not solely within our own control, I would recommend Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers .  Here is a blurb from the dust jacket:

"Why do some people succeed far more than others?  There is a story that is usually told about extremely successful people, a story that focuses on intelligence and ambition.  In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, argues that the story of success is very different, and that if we want to understand how some people thrive, we should spend more time looking around them -- at such things as their family, their birthplace, or even their birth date.  The story of success is more complex than it initially appears."  

I believe that by taking a hard look in the mirror we can also see that the opposite is true as well.  The vast majority of those who are caught in poverty are not there just because of their own doing. Again Tim Keller states, “The three causes of poverty... are oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure... [and], I have concluded that the emphasis is usually on the larger structural factors.”

When we live in light of these two truths, we will become aware of the systems of injustice that keep others from enjoying a similar prosperity.


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