Call it the Law of Unintended Consequences. You act out of good intentions and find that you are hurting people you had no thought of affecting. A story first …
A sleepy village with a stream running through it enjoyed a quality of life comparable to none. The people were simple and wise. The town operated soundly, and the people slept just as soundly. But an economic crisis hit the neighboring region, and the people became worried. In their prudence, they decided to cut back on unnecessary public services.
The first casualty went unnoticed. He was an old man who mostly kept to himself. He maintained the town park. Each season you could see him cleaning the stream to keep it free from leaves and other debris that would block the water’s flow. Now there was no one to perform that service, and the stream backed up. The water pooled and mosquitoes festered. The disease mosquitoes carried to townspeople made many sick. Doctors’ waiting rooms overflowed. Pharmacies couldn’t keep the medicine on the shelves. Children and teachers missed school. Workers called in sick, and productivity of businesses declined. The village tax base shrunk, and the economic crisis was now truly their own.
Some blamed it all on the effects of neighboring towns that were not as farsighted and frugal as they. The crisis only spilled over to them; it was really someone else’s fault. But the truth lay closer to home: ecology and economics are closely related. A clean spring and thriving town depend upon each other. And letting go of one low-paying employee set in motion a world of hurt for many.
The root prefix for the words ecology and economy come from the Greek word oikos, meaning house. Ecology is the study of how the household is organized, and economy deals with the rules or laws of how the household works.
When Genesis says that God created the world and placed Adam and Eve in a garden, we can imagine the world as an arboretum of sorts. Everything matters to the well being of everything else. Go to the Dallas Arboretum and you will see flora and fauna in every season, mutually reinforcing one another. Soil and water, insects and birds, plants and flowers, sun and shade: Everything works together to make for a beautiful and sustainable garden of life.
But if the gardeners fail to root out the weeds or keep the streams clean or cultivate the soil in season, things will quickly get out of hand. Disease and death will surface. The delicate fabric of nature will be torn.
Many people who are not deeply affected personally these days by the economy’s struggle contribute to its further decline by their prudence. For example, they reign in their spending; which, in normal times, is the better part of wisdom. They decide to mow their own lawn, thus firing their lawn service. They decide to eat at home more and not frequent restaurants. They decide to save more and give less to churches and charitable organizations.
The effect of these well-intentioned decisions? The people most vulnerable, those who live on the edge in normal times, are pushed to despair. Businesses that struggle to make it in good times now can’t because their regular customers withdraw. Families and individuals go over the brink. They turn to local aid organizations for help, but these benevolence groups are now underfunded and overloaded with need. The downward spiral continues.
What to do? Look out for your neighbor, as always. The breakdown in the economy tears at the ecology of relationships. It grows from people who choose only to look after themselves. If that is the problem, it isn’t now the cure. Consider your neighbor when you decide how to respond in these days. Personal sacrifice may mean thinking less of your own security and more of others by spending, serving, and giving more, not less.
George Mason is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church. The Worship section is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on these pages. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.