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CMAJ 2001;164(11):1566 [PDF]

In response to: C.M. Godfrey
Charles Godfrey considers me mean-spirited for suggesting that readers not purchase John Stackhouse's well written account but read a library copy instead [Left Atrium].1 I recently had a conversation with a proprietor of a bed and breakfast establishment about the art of earning a living. She remarked insightfully, "Yes, it's about money, but it's not all about money." Some could argue that John Stackhouse has already been reasonably well remunerated for the 8 years he spent gathering and filing his stories.

Stackhouse challenges the stereotypical view of hopelessness as the defining fact of existence for the anonymous, impoverished billions on the planet. The basis for his measured optimism rests with the individuals he portrays who have not only hope, but names and identities. Many of the people he writes about achieve modest success in their daily struggles to find meaningful work, to feed and educate their children and to build strong communities, despite what most of us would see as a serious lack of cash.

By extension, the people Stackhouse describes, such as Amma and Sindaiga Sabar, defy us, readers of books and fellow human beings, to examine our own lives. Do we share their common goals? What degree of human solidarity is possible across the oceans that separate rich and poor? How shall it be expressed?

Stackhouse's valuable contribution to the development debate — his "truth," to use Godfrey's word — should be available in community lending libraries and on the Web. Given the major theme of the work, such a distribution scheme seems to me a natural and low-cost alternative to the personal acquisition of not just this text, but many other books and magazines, including the New Internationalist. I agree with Godfrey that the truth will appear in unexpected places. And eventually that truth may set all of us free. Meanwhile, we shouldn't stop asking the question, How shall we best spend our limited resources of energy, time and money?

Vincent M. Hanlon
Emergency physician
Lethbridge, Alta.


1. Hanlon V. Developmental reading. CMAJ 2001;164(2):237-8.



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