Netflix is currently airing a three-part series on Bill Gates. It provides a great glimpse into a complicated man, his personal journey and his impact on society. At one point in the show, Bill describes becoming aware of the horrible physical, economic and social consequences polio has on the people who contract it. Though polio has been largely eliminated in the west, it is still prevalent in many parts of the world. Reflecting on this, he decides that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose slogan is “All Lives Are Equal. We are impatient optimists working to reduce inequality,” will focus its resources on eradicating polio.
Excited about his audacious plan, Bill shows his daughter a video of a young girl with polio and explains that in the future no one will have to suffer the way she is. In response, his daughter asked, “But what are you doing for that girl?” “We are going to eradicate the disease,” he says with great enthusiasm. “Yes, but what are you doing for that girl,” she asked again.
It can be argued that Bill’s response to polio represents the best of capitalism, creativity and the allocation of personal resources for the greater good. As Franciscans, we applaud the good in the approach. However, our Franciscan sensibilities are better expressed by Gates’ daughter.
While people like Bill Gates focus on the general—on the thousands affected by a terrible disease—we, like his daughter, are drawn to the particular, to the individuals with the disease. Rather than wonder, how can we eradicate a disease, we wonder, who is this person? What is her name? What are her individual needs, her particular personality, and her unique circumstances? What can we do for her?
Individual Reflection Questions:
- Are you more drawn to the lawn (general) or to an individual blade of grass (particular)? To the class (general) or to the student (particular)?
- Accepting that both approaches are good, what are the pros and cons of the one you tend toward?
Ministry Reflection Questions:
- What are the ways your ministry focus’ on each particular individual you serve?
- What are the ways your ministry acknowledges the particular gifts and preferences of staff members?
- Can you recall times when you had to choose between giving attention to an individual you serve or to running an effective and efficient group meeting or program? Which did you choose? What was the outcome? How do you feel about the choice now?