If you do nothing else for Mandela Day, at least read this…
Imagine waking up each day with a commitment to not only serve, but also empathize, understand, stand against injustice, self-reflect, speak up, and acknowledge our collective responsibility. It's an ambitious endeavor, no doubt. But as we delve deeper into Baldwin's wisdom and its powerful resonance with Amartya Sen's Capability Approach to development, we'll uncover how intertwined these concepts truly are, and how they can inspire us to create a world where no one is "starving," metaphorically or literally.
In our diverse yet deeply interconnected society, the timeless wisdom of American author and social critic, James Baldwin, offers a piercing analysis of systemic imbalances. His quote, "If I am starving, you are in danger. People think that my danger makes them safe. They’re in trouble," underscores our mutual dependence an
d interconnectedness, resonating powerfully with current theories of development, particularly Amartya Sen's Capability Approach.
In Baldwin's words, "If I am starving, you are in danger," he conjures a profound image of a world struggling with varied forms of deprivation. Here, 'starving' serves as a metaphor for myriad types of deprivation—economic, social, and beyond. The 'danger' refers to societal instability and dysfunction that emerges from such deprivation.
This aligns closely with the Capability Approach, where starvation can be interpreted as a person’s lack of certain 'capabilities' or freedoms to live a life they have reason to value. If an individual lacks the capabilities they need to flourish—whether it's due to poverty, lack of education, or discrimination—it creates an imbalance that makes the whole society vulnerable.
We have yet to understand that if I am starving you are in danger. People think that my danger makes them safe. They’re in trouble - James Baldwin
Baldwin's assertion, "People think that my danger makes them safe," confronts a misguided belief that others' sufferings somehow act as a protective shield for the rest. This false notion reflects the systemic inequalities that pervade societies worldwide, highlighting the need for a development philosophy that not only acknowledges these disparities but actively works to eradicate them. The Capability Approach does exactly this, proposing that development should focus on expanding people’s capabilities, ensuring that everyone has the freedom to lead the kind of life they value.
In the quote's concluding remark, "They’re in trouble," Baldwin issues a stern warning. This statement aligns with the core of the Capability Approach, which holds that development, if not inclusive, is unsustainable. Neglecting the suffering of others and underestimating our interconnectedness risks endangering the stability of our entire societal structure.
This exploration of Baldwin's wisdom through the lens of the Capability Approach is a call to action. In navigating the complexities of our modern world, we must recognize that enhancing each individual's capabilities is key to societal well-being. Our development efforts should uphold values of mutual support, shared responsibility, and collective action, ensuring that the "starvation" of capabilities in one is seen and treated as a danger to all.
Let's dismantle the walls of complacency and privilege, embrace our shared fate, and strive for a society where no one is "starving," and everyone has the freedom to lead a fulfilled life. After all, our collective well-being, secured by enhancing capabilities for all, is the true testament to our progress as a civilization.
Mandela's vision of social justice and equality ties closely to Baldwin's assertion that the suffering of one endangers all, and the Capability Approach's goal of enhancing people's freedoms. Mandela fought tirelessly against systemic inequities, and Mandela Day encourages us all to continue this work, to ensure that no one is "starving" and that everyone is safe. This is not just about physical starvation but also about the deprivation of opportunities, capabilities, and rights — concepts central to both Baldwin's quote and the Capability Approach.
Mandela Day serves as a global reminder that we each have a role and a responsibility in creating a world that acknowledges our shared fate, where everyone's capabilities are enhanced and their well-being ensured. This aligns with the call-to-action inherent in Baldwin's quote and the objectives of the Capability Approach, forming a powerful trio of interconnected ideas that inspire us towards global solidarity, social justice, and sustainable development.