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Paternalism in Two Pictures

To me, the above either / or choice captures paternalism and top-down decision making versus the potential for what a decentralized process can bring in a clear way.  All men, providing their “expert” opinions on birth control.  Clearly, no bueno.  On the other hand, many people coming up with a bigger and better idea than one sole person.  Much more bueno….


The best thing about the entire Kony2012 / Invisible Children debate was that it finally provided a real opening to discuss what is and what does not constitute paternalism, why paternalism is problematic and what are alternative approaches to helping and empowering people that reject the old top-down, hierarchical way of decision making and finding solutions to the very real problems that confront us.

Kony2012 was undeniably paternalistic, in that it did not have the input of those  that it claimed to want to help, and thought that the best approach was for the West (and really, America) to determine how to end a conflict since the poor local organizations could not (even though, in many ways, they already have).  I’m on a mission to stop a war and save these children?  It might be well meaning, but it is truly a problematic stance.

But what really struck me was that this approach is not unique to Invisible Children.  It’s used by governments all the time, both internationally (Iraq anyone?) and domestically (how can we “save” the poor?”).  And contrary to what some may tell you, both conservatives and liberals fall into this trap…though likely for different reasons and motivations.

That being said, I want to explore this topic more as I think it is so very important to, not only respecting people and empowering marginalized voices, but also to finding the right outcomes and better solutions overall.  There’s a lot of ground to cover, and I’m sure that many have already taken some trips down this road previously.  Therefore, if anyone has any thoughts, insights to provide or can point me in the direction of interesting reading they’ve found on the subject, I’m more than open.

Please share!



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