“To Repair the World” – Part III of a conversation with Stan and Jay

By Stan Le Quire of Eastern University and Jay Renfro, member of Nashville A Rocha

Jay and Stan are two guys who dream about changing the world. Together, they are reading Paul Farmer’s To Repair the World. Paul has a great reputation as someone who changes the world. This week, Jay and Stan are talking about the third of Farmer’s speeches, “Three Stories, Three Paradigms, and a Critique of Social Entrepreneurship.”

STAN ASKS JAY: This entire speech really got me jazzed. You? It is full of so many themes that we have talked about before. On page 41, Farmer says, “The environmental movement. . . has long been a movement of the privileged.” Farmer’s statement reminds me of a phrase I use or have borrowed: “armchair environmentalism.” Jay, I want to hear you out on this concept. Do you agree with Farmer? How did we get to an environmentalism of the privileged? Should we take action? And, if so, what corrective options could we promote?

JAY ANSWERS: I recently taught a lesson on preserving the Earth’s biodiversity to my 8th graders. I asked them some of those same questions, Stan, mostly around what they thought they could do to help conserve the Earth’s biodiversity. Their answers–  mostly things like, “pick up trash,” “don’t cut down trees,” “help out the poor people,” etc.—disappointed me. Those are “answers” that can be given while sitting in an armchair or a classroom, but not ones that carry weight in the face of the crises themselves. In order to be effective, environmentalism has to be aware of the particular needs of the place for which it is trying to be the advocate. Any broad, generic bumper sticker elixirs don’t actually help, though they perhaps give us the illusion we are participating in the solution.

It’s not my students’ fault that they didn’t give me good answers; it’s probably mine more than anybody’s. As Farmer pointed out, people want to help. What we don’t understand is that in order to be able to arrive and promote any good, corrective actions we have to first leave our armchairs and understand the problems themselves. This dirty, unglorified work involves understanding the place and people where these problems exist.

JAY ASKS STAN: Farmer speaks of social entrepreneurship as a fad that he hopes will not fade. He also speaks of hope in general as the great sustainer of any movement. What do you think are the dangers of environmentalists and social entrepreneurs who are not motivated by hope when they have experienced the successes and failures in their fields? What will it take to make sure our social entrepreneurship isn’t just a passing fad?

STAN ANSWERS: On page 33, Farmer states his belief that we all have the symptoms of social entrepreneurship and that “we may soon see a global pandemic of social entrepreneurship.” It is almost as if he is saying that humans are made for entrepreneurship. I agree. To be human is to engage the world – both its joys and its pain. This is why earlier on pages 32 and 33, he confesses “puzzlement” that working for the “world’s poorest is considered innovative and entrepreneurial.” So, I believe social entrepreneurship is bound to continue; it will not be a passing fad.

I believe there are two things that everyone needs to ground their innovative, entrepreneurial work – celebration and thanksgiving. Celebration: we must create parties, dances, and most especially worship services, etc. to acknowledge our accomplishments and the movements of God in our world. Thanksgiving: we must respond with humble gratitude when we accomplish goals and when we see the acts of God in our world. What worries me more than the passing of entrepreneurship is doing it without celebration and thanksgiving.


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