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Every conscience, whether right or wrong, whether it concerns things evil in themselves or things morally wrong, whether it concerns things evil in themselves or things morally indifferent, obliges us to act in such a way that he who acts against his conscience sins.”
-St. Thomas Aquinas, Quadlibetun 3,27
St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the foremost Christian philosophers who lived. According to him human beings have a natural instinct to grasp the principles of morality which he opines are self evident. He wrote from his conviction that the innate ability of human beings to distinguish between good and evil is given. What cannot be taken for granted though is the ability to apply these principles which is a function of the conscience. This for him is where the issue of sin comes in. For refusal to do that which is good and beneficial especially to other human beings is evil. As another philosopher says, “he who can live without other people is either a god or a beast,” The challenge then becomes living with other humans in a way that is mutually beneficial and not exploiting the weaknesses of others or abusing positions of trust and authority.
This has indeed proved to be a very serious challenge.
All over the world poverty is on the increase. Interestingly, studies have shown that the poorest nations on earth are also those with the highest rate of corruption, where the few who make up the ruling class exploit the resources of the whole for their own selfish ends, leaving the vast majority with little or no means of livelihood.
It is said of Professor Muhamad Yunus: “He could not reconcile the differences between the elegant economic theories he taught at the university with the economic situation of majority of his country people.” In Bangladesh poverty walked tall on the streets aided by the perennial floods. His conscience called and he responded by dropping his’ chalk and working among the people on the streets, providing token amounts of money for poor people to rebuild their lives. That bold step did not just give food to the hungry, it built self confidence and esteem in people who were seen as outcasts without ability; giving back humanity to the bastardized and dehumanized, those Franz Franon describe as the “wretched of the earth”. Of course as Franon also demonstrates these “wretched” were and are daily being assisted to wretchedness by policies, persons and circumstances beyond their control.
Here lies the beauty of Professor Yunus. The fact that though his background, education and opportunities predisposed him to comfort, (he was not poor though there was poverty in his land), he chose not to sin. He chose not to be indifferent. He chose to act in a way that will better the lots of other people.
That decision led to what is today known as micro-finance; lending to the otherwise excluded and marginalized so poverty can be reversed.
All over the world, micro- finance is acknowledged as a veritable tool for leveraging out of poverty. What ever the arguments for or against micro finance, the fact remains that it is a bulwark against hunger, deprivation, low self esteem and lack of access to life transforming opportunities like education which in most of the poorest nations of the world only money can buy.
While a lot of people expected the Nobel to be in Economics, it is not surprising that it is in Peace considering his contribution to poverty alleviation, which in our world is basically caused by unjust/inequitable distribution of resources, to increasing violence, hunger and disease. An attempt at poverty reduction therefore is a contribution to world peace.
As has become widely accepted, some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them. Irrespective of how greatness comes, retaining it is what counts as there is a thin line between greatness and smallness. The side of the divide on which persons are remembered depends on the acts in which they are consistent. For over two decades now Professor Yunus has been consistent in the fight against poverty, pioneering a model which is acknowledged all over the world. We at LAPO salute this man who truly is an epitome of greatness.