There are some thoughts that always return to me in cycles, some thoughts that are now like good friends, loyal customers or terrifying stalkers. They keep me company through the quieter moments in my life, or they keep me up, raising my pulse, triggering an anxiety attack. As you can discern, these companions bear a full range.
One of these thoughts is a contemplation on a quote by Paul Farmer in Tracy Kidder’s book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” I had the read the damn thing for a sophomore seminar in international studies, so the focus was on cultural relativism in development, and the heavily cited “preferential option for the poor.” What stood out to me, someone looking to work in development, was how difficult it is to work in development. And further, how nearly impossible it is to work in development with a purpose and a philosophy that perfectly complement one another in such a way as to create a man like Paul Farmer.
The essential gist of it was that in order to find your path in this life, one must figure out their purpose and their philosophy. Basically, what do I want to do? And how am I going to do it? For Farmer, his tagline would probably look a little something like this – “Purpose: Help the poor. Philosophy: Basically because that is the right thing to do. But if you want a more complicated argument, preferential option for the poor, a complex historical web of colonial influences and international economic inequality.”
Naturally, after reading something like this, I began mulling over my own purpose and my own philosophy. In those aforementioned quiet moments, when my mind is prey to itself, it’s a ping-pong game of “purpose. philosophy. purpose. philosophy.” It’s been almost three years since that seminar and I still have not figured this out. Which is nothing considering that some people (if not most) live their lives without ever quite figuring it out. And that’s terrifying.
The problem is that my purposes in this life so far have been unidimensional. In other words, they have been achievable, basically things that have been expected of me. Step one: Develop basic human functions. Step two: education. Step three: wander aimlessly through life, collecting silver coins with your minuscule labor in this savage world. OK, step three aside, these purposes have not required that I have a philosophy through which I measure worth and personal ethic. These are things that I, someone who comes from a long line of college-educated predecessors, was statistically likely to do.
At the great risk of sounding overly sincere, a true purpose must be one that lights the path, and a philosophy guides you through it. One of the best purposes for someone to have is to help other people. Just how we decide to aid humanity depends on our philosophy. In development, it’s believing that what one does matters and so doing all one can, no matter how trivial or small that act/project may seem. And now I’m going to bring this matter to our project. Although I cannot personally provide the students of Khongor’s 14th School with cucumbers and tomatoes for lunch, the greenhouse can. Although I cannot demonstrate the solution for supplying a more varied diet to Mongolia, the greenhouse can. If we treat the greenhouse as an entity separate from me and Tee (let’s call him Greenie), then the greenhouse starts to look a lot of someone with a clear goal, and strong drive.
So all this is to say that although Tee and I have placed a single greenhouse in a small town, that greenhouse has more purpose that I ever might in my whole life. Purpose: provide nutrition for those that don’t have it. Philosophy: Because that’s the right thing to do.