Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Mile High Learning Club

When it comes down to it I am glad I talk to the person next to me on every airplane flight I take. Just as Edward Norton says something along these lines in Fight Club, “Everyone I meet while traveling are single-serving friends as you talk, you become friends, and when the plane lands your friendship is over and you both carry on with your separate lives.” There was one time I sat next to a guy with a huge notebook and asked him what the notebook was for. He explained to me that he was an architect and these were the blue prints of his prison. As always, I went to ask the important things as on an airplane people have an interesting desire to be completely honest as you know nobody who knows them so what they tell you cannot come back to haunt them. So of course, if any of you ever end up in the new prison in San Francisco, make sure you pretend you are ill to get transferred to the medical room and then walk to the water fountain by the north exit and run out the door leading to the outside, as this door will always be unlocked and after you run out you will need to hop only one 5-foot fence to get out… You still run the risk of getting hit by snipers, but the architect said that was one’s best bet for a prison break from his prison.

The second most interesting person who I ever talked to on an airplane was this guy who owned an organization that sold water pumps to poor people in Africa. I had this conversation 5 years ago and little did he know, on our flight from Oakland to LAX, he would some up the entire point of William Easterly’s book, The White Man’s Burden. This single serving friend was explaining to me that his goal was to get every poor and starving person this water producing tool so everyone could both have enough drinking water for their family and enough water to grow crops which can be used as food or sold. So being the na├»ve 17-year-old that I was, I asked him if they just gave every African person who wanted a tool, a tool. He laughed at me with a laugh of concern and said that absolutely under no circumstances would he give away his tool for free. Everyone had to buy their own water producing tool. After he explained to me how incredible this tool was as it could draw water up from incredibly far below and make every family who owned this tool exponentially better off as his product was almost essential for everyone to own in the poor regions, I thought it was cruel to not give them away. When he said the device costed $220 dollars a piece, I became angry and thought he was an evil man for trying to make ungodly amounts of money off selling this tool to desperate Africans. At my squawk of, “$220 DOLLARS!!! How can a poor African afford that!?!” he explained that the first $200 of every tool was paid for by his company through donations, but the last $20 the African had to come up with on his own.

So at this moment I no longer believed him to be an evil man, but simply a stupid one, as I asked, “Well why don’t you raise $20 more per person?” While I expected and answer along the lines of, “If I did that how could I determine who gets one and who doesn’t,” his actual answer made me believe that I was sitting in the presence of a shear genius. One who could some up Easterly’s book in the remaining twenty minutes of the flight. This man stated that they could easily raise enough money to provide countless people with these water pumps and in fact we did that in our early years of being an organization. He would explain that what he found was that when someone was gifted with a water pump they would often misplace it, break it, or sell it and then ask for a new one. Even people who didn’t pawn off their water pump, often did little work with it and never achieved the achievable results. However, when he made someone pay $20 for the water pump, which he explained to me is generally an entire months wages and therefore along the lines of a year of saving, the new proud owner of this water pump cherished his farming tool and would never let anything happen to it, he would work vigourously to achieve the full potential of this tools capability, and this shocking difference is all due to the fact that this person had to sacrifice so much to get this tool that he truly understood its value. In the end, I believe the main point of my single-serving friend and Easterly is that if you give someone something they take it for granted and do not respect it. Just as if you give a man a fish he will not be hungry for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he will not be hungry the rest of his life. If you make a person work hard for the things that will benefit their life, when they can finally afford them they will fully take advantage of their situation as they take pride in the opportunity that he or she created, through hard work and determination.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure if you realize that in this post you are drawing an analogy between pets (animals) and human beings. This is an accidental mistake of belittlement--perhaps one you would like to edit.