I've been intrigued by a new book entitled, The Bottom Billion, ever since I first heard about it several weeks ago. There are many positive reviews of the book, which is written by Paul Collier, currently a professor at Oxford and formerly the Director of development research at the World Bank.
The book appears to be one worth getting, but until that time I have managed to skim sections of it in a local bookstore. The book is about the poorest billion people in the world, people who live in economies that are not growing and are in need of new and more complex solutions than many would have us think. It is a well-researched and well-written book, and the words sound as if they come from a man who has spent a lot of time with these poorest billion (he has). The author provides a nice balance in his views. There is talk of globalization, aid, war, etc yet all with a care to not run into what he calls "the headless heart" problem.
One of the central themes that runs through the book, beginning in the introduction, is this idea of the "headless heart." Collier describes that too often people become passionate about helping the poorest and move first with their heart without intelligently thinking through the options or consequences. He spends a little time citing a specific example of a Christian relief organization with good intentions that probably did more harm than good in Africa because of their stance on the poor and their subsequent actions.
I don't doubt that there are faith-based organizations that run with their heart more than with their head, but it most certainly is not a problem of only faith-based organizations (and he argues the same). More generally, having a headless heart is a problem in many public health/human rights activities (although that is increasingly changing). One of the most well-documented such problems is with aid that is provided after a major disaster. Whether a hurricane in Central America, a tsunami off the coast of Sumatra, or flooding in the Gulf Coast states of the U.S., it is well-documented that much of the aid that pours in is wasted or not well managed, in large part because the donors gave with good hearts, but with little critical thinking about what really was needed or how it was needed.
I highly recommend Collier's book, and it is about much more than this "headless heart" syndrome. But, it is a central theme, and one I wanted to pick up on briefly here. I'm sure that I could use less of that headless heart in my own life and work. Collier, it seems, helps us think again about the poor and how to move our actions beyond the popular Hollywood rhetoric.
(I first heard about The Bottom Billion in a discussion of it in the journal First Things. I have found First Things to be an excellent source for academic and well-thought articles about public health and human rights from a Christian perspective. If you know of other good sources, I'd be very interested. For an excellent discussion on the topics raised in The Bottom Billion, visit First Things (http://www.firstthings.com/) and look at the October, November, and December issues--the section titled, "The Public Square.")