Muhammad Yunus, micro-credit and parenting

October 2, 2009

harvestMuhammad Yunus is a heroic innovator of support and effective, compassionate assistance for the poor:  he developed the concept of “micro-credit” where tiny loans are made to the very poorest people, mostly to women, so that they can develop self-employment opportunities (i.e. small businesses selling hand made crafts).  Interest is not charged and his Grameen Bank has grown to be able to make billions in micro-loans.  Yunus’ model has also inspired other banks to successfully follow his model, all of which has garnered Yunus a well-deserved Nobel Prize, and become an effective, grass-roots way of addressing poverty—intervening at a level too small for big international programs to consider, too miniscule for “normal” banks to bother with.

Now what does this have to do with parenting?  Well, firstly, micro-finance as a construct underscores the power and impact of small amounts of help, given in a context of trust.  Yunus learned that people, particularly women, pay back their loans, and this trust got continually paid forward to millions of subsequent borrowers; likewise, as parents we might trust that our small moments with our children, our trusting their words rather than doubting them; our catching them being “good” rather than criticizing them for being “bad” are small, but powerful modes of empowering children toward success and toward a model of compassionate social relatedness—toward unity consciousness.

Beyond our individual parenting, the concept of micro-credit could also extend to the non-material world of consciousness, compassion and small moments of personal assistance in the service of any and all of our collective children.  Yunus’ life changed when a famine in rural Bangladesh spilled hordes of people who were literally dying of starvation into his face and onto his local streets.  When he could no longer live in denial of their plight, his heart went out of teaching theoretical economics in an ivory tower and he took to the streets.  Trial and error of helping “on the ground” allowed micro-credit to emerge as a successful strategy.

Perhaps we  might open our own eyes to the many children who are given much less than a fair chance at education, health and nutrition, not just in so-called “third world” countries, but also in our own country, often just mere blocks from where we live, but under the radar of what we focus on.  Micro-attention, micro-compassion and micro-assistance might take very humble and/or subtle forms, and yet might have significant impact on those who receive our respectful awareness.  Maybe this means we call a nearby school and ask if they could use five or ten dollars for art supplies, or if they could use a volunteer for an hour (yes, this can get complicated, as tutors must be fingerprinted, etc. but a lot of people have little idea about how to help at a personal level).

I have no grand vision of an organized institution transforming our underserved kids’ situations, but rather the simple idea that we can all personally give even just a tiny bit (time, attention, even just good wishes).  Yunus suggests guidelines for what he calls “social business”; beyond working to combat poverty, not charging interest, etc. we are finally advised to give whatever we do give with joy.

Many people sense that the world is in a transition.  Money is a symbol—a signifier of underlying assets such as gold, but really an emblem of trust between people (who will accept a piece of paper or a note and consider it to be worth more than the paper it’s written upon.  Money is a cultural invention that has allowed civilization to grow, and for humans to specialize in different areas based on a trust that they can later trade their goods or services or wages for food, clothes, etc. instead of having to personally grow and sew whatever they will eat and wear.

It is really a natural leap of consciousness to realize that the same power that ultimately drives money (i.e. trust between humans, not gold in vaults) is readily available in every human heart.  If we transition from getting (i.e. money, love, attention) toward giving (be it small amounts of money, love or attention) we empower ourselves, we forego the dispiriting excuse that it’s up to government to change things, and we realize that we are the group, the country, the problem and the potential solution.

I have learned from the example of many powerful and wealthy people, who more often than not still feel insecure, inadequate and unfulfilled, that our happiness comes from embracing what we have and where we are at.  It serves us to not presume that the poor are unhappy, and to not presume that we will solve their imagined sorrows with money.  I had a friend who visited Mumbai and went into the sewers to meet a family of beggars who lived down there.  After spending time with them, and confronting the astounding fact that while they were miserably poor, they were not in fact miserable, he brought an absolute hauntedness back to LA with him, one in which he could not simply go back to work and life as he had previously lived it.

So, let’s dedicate today to the micro-repair of the world and all its collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

p.s. for more on what Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank are up to visit: http://www.muhammadyunus.org/