Debate over the “Live Below the Line Week” Challenge

by Vicki Lawn

In response to GOOD Magazine’s article, What Do “Pretend to be Poor” Experiments Really Teach Us?

As a future physician, I am learning to treat an illness with evidence based medicine.  It would be irresponsible to treat any ailment off a mere gut feeling, and while I find that there could potentially be more breathing room in the profession as far as creativity and solution creating go, when the matter is as delicate as human life and suffering, the profession looks towards science and evidence for answers, and it is right to do so.  With that being said, there are a variety of issues that remind me of treating cancer.  No one in their right mind would argue with the goal of eradicating cancer. That is why there are so many awareness and fundraising campaigns out there to see the end of it.  And within the medical profession, there is an established protocol one goes about when treating it.  First and foremost, the physician must look at the evidence.  In some cancers in some people in some circumstances, surgery works, and at other times, chemo or radiation work. And sometimes, a combination works the best, but nevertheless, all varieties and treatments and circumstances need to be documented and studied.  Where people do their arguing in the medical profession is always in the methods. How do we treat the cancer? What is the most effective and cost efficient way to do so? What are the risks? What are the benefits? Scientists argue their treatment method elegantly with the scientific method, and eventually a consensus comes about and we end up with a treatment.

What does this have to do with LBL and the debate to end extreme poverty? While ending extreme poverty is not a new issue, it has never existed or even been presented to the mainstream before.  Or, if it was presented, it was done so in a manner that makes the public feel guilty rather than empowered to take action.  Regardless, the issue of ending extreme poverty has never been in the public’s eye like fighting cancer has been, and because of this,  we do not yet have enough methodology developed and people studying it to agree upon the right treatment.  Look at micro-finance for example. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s ugly, it’s good again.  Although academia is growing to fight extreme poverty,  what we need first is a united front to ensure that eradicating extreme poverty is the unanimous goal and has a top priority like fighting breast cancer has become in the United States.

However, unfortunately as it stands, the goal of eradicating poverty is not to that point yet.  We must first bridge the gap between the youth movement and academia.  Live Below the Line does that.  It brings the goal to the mainstream. Does the the NFL wearing pink ribbons in October cure breast cancer? The obvious answer is no, it doesn’t, but it does activate the public to engage in the issue where they would not have done so before.

Extreme poverty can not and ought not be fought by academics alone, but can and will only be fought effectively by the activation of the public and the youth that will inspire academia to study it and develop appropriate policy to end it.

 As someone who is personally invested in eradicating extreme poverty, I beg people to first engage in the issue, then make it their own, and finally to argue with my methods as I strive to find the best treatment. Help me study it and then argue with my methodology. Prove me wrong if you can! If you find a better way to treat poverty, just as if a scientist finds a better way to treat cancer, for the benefit of the patient and those suffering and not of my ego, I will use that scientist’s new evidence as a treatment, and I believe the same is held true for most activists working to end extreme poverty. 

I, along with a few other students, introduced LBL to my medical school almost a month ago, and it has given us all the opportunity to engage with and be challenged by our colleagues. It is essential for the eradication of extreme poverty and for those we serve to not discriminate between who ought to take part, but instead to encourage everyone to do so.  Living Below the Line’s intentions are not to eradicate extreme poverty in this one week.  Instead, its intentions are to give a platform for the participants to lead discussions with their peers, colleagues and families.  

How can we, as activists, spark conversation? Living Below the Line gives a creative response to that question.  If you have a better way, please tell us so that we can again find another way to spark a conversation.

Vicki Lawn volunteered with Edge of Seven in India in Thailand during the spring of 2009.  She is volunteering this summer to build a hostel for 40 girls in rural Nepal and spending one month in India to research potential partners for Edge of Seven.


2 thoughts on “Debate over the “Live Below the Line Week” Challenge

  1. First of all, I wish you the best in medical school. I’ve been married to an MD, Board Certified in Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, for 40 yrs. We are actively involved with a dynamic NGO based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. What is needed is to find ways to open people’s eyes to realize the world isn’t all about them, encourage them to share so they will enrich their own lives in ways they have never thought possible. To infuse hope into the world, one person at a time, is one of the greatest joys. We also work with The Giant Puppet Project. Google them. Eradicates poverty of spirit. Children have been acknowledged for being creative and are proud of themselves for the first time in their lives. It’s extremely powerful – the brainchild of the brilliantly talented British master puppet maker, Jig Cochrane. The eventual goal is to turn the project over to local artists. Same as the JWOC goal. These are very powerful paradigms to eradicating poverty. If you do look into JWOC and see the Clean Water Project aspect of their doings, over 10,000 people now have clean pure water and the team just started working in another village. Over 700 people now study at the free language school that was finished being built about a year ago.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Janet.
    I know a few students from my class are heading to Siem Reap on a medical mission this summer, and I was there last Spring. I’ll spread the word!

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