AIDS and a Better World; Helping Others Win

Date: Wed, 7 Aug 2002 23:49:08 -0400 (EDT)

Dear All,

I know that many of you soon will change, or recently have changed, your e-mail address. If you would like to remain on this list, please send me your new e-mail address now or when you have it. I hope to hear from you! For all of you -- but particularly for those of you who choose not to continue on this list -- I would like to offer you two (final) thoughts. One, courtesy of Fred Rogers and concluding this e-mail, is a simple tale that speaks volumes about what matters in life. The other is a request that you keep the issue of global poverty in general and the global AIDS crisis in particular within your consciousness.

Perhaps you heard the news earlier this summer. Unless prevention and treatment efforts are stepped up significantly, the AIDS pandemic will get much worse before it gets better. About 25 million people have already died of AIDS -- 3 million people are dying every year -- and by 2020, 68 million more people will be dead, victims of a preventable, treatable disease. (See Communities, even entire nations, watch as hopes of a brighter future seem to fade, replaced by a living nightmare of societies running in reverse -- people dying ever younger, parents burying their children.

The AIDS crisis may seem far away to most of you, as it is centered in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, though growing rapidly in Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia, and in communities of color here in the United States. Yet, another victim resides very close to home. Its name is humanity, and its arch-enemies are silence and inaction. Those with the power to stop the pandemic -- from governments of wealthy nations that have provided precious few funds to combat the crisis, to governments and other leaders of nations heavily affected by HIV/AIDS whose responses to the decimation of their own people have often been criminally weak -- risk their humanity by failing to act meaningfully. To the extent that you and I can affect our governments' and society's response, our humanity too is on the line. The enormous human stakes of the AIDS crisis and the test it presents to the nature of our humanity make it central to our challenge of creating a better world.

You might say that we have two ways to create a better world. On a personal scale, we can each better this world, and do so with every person we help. Every life made better, happier, more meaningful, more bearable because of how we live our lives -- and every time we affirm our humanity by working towards these ends -- testifies to the power that resides within each of us to make this a better world.

But on a global scale, all of us must cooperate to create a better world. If anything other than a determined world faces the AIDS pandemic, then I fear that you and I will not be able to leave behind a world that is better than the one into which we entered.

You might disagree. After all, AIDS is but one of many ills that plague our planet. If peace can take hold in the Mideast, if democratic governments replace authoritarian ones, if long-running civil wars end, if women finally reach the mantle of equal rights around the world, if biodiversity can be preserved and climate change stopped, if more children become educated, if we can enter a new age of tolerance, if poverty is reduced and human rights protected -- if the world can succeed in all these ways, certainly we will have a better world.

Yes -- and no. AIDS is already having a drastic effect on the poorest among us. Life expectancy -- a powerful measure of society's progress -- is falling precipitously in the world's poorest region, sub-Saharan Africa, which is also the part of the world most affected by AIDS. It would be 62 without AIDS; it has fallen to a mere 47 years, and continues to drop. (See Basic building blocks of societies, such as education, healthcare, and agriculture, are beginning to crumble. HIV/AIDS is helping turn hopes of progress into the pains of regress. If progress is to be measured by the condition of, in the words of President Kennedy, "those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery," then so long as the AIDS pandemic persists, there will not be a better world, and we will not be able to leave a better world to those who come after us.

Moreover, a world that refuses to seriously confront the AIDS pandemic will not likely confront many of its other difficulties. What is the hope for religious and other forms of tolerance where discrimination against people living with AIDS, and high-risk groups such as homosexuals, persists? How true can a democracy -- a people's government -- be in countries where governments respond with too little, too late to a disease that is destroying their people? As development goes in reverse in country after country and community after community, what are the prospects of significantly improving the lives of the 3 billion people who live on less than two dollars per day?

Much is needed to stop the AIDS pandemic, much of which the United States and other wealthy nations can help provide -- such as money, debt relief, technical support, pressure to conform to human rights law, greatly increased foreign aid, and more. And much can only come from the people and governments of countries heavily affected by HIV/AIDS. For now, please look at such sites as (see especially,, and I encourage you to periodically review these sites and act as they suggest. The struggle to get our government to live up to its responsibility still has a long way to go.

Thank you, as always, for your patience and for being a part of this list. Please see below for a heartening tale from Fred Rogers, and please do let me know if your e-mail address is changing and you would like me to add your new address to this list. Whether or not you continue on this list, I sincerely hope that you will continue to find your own ways of helping to create a better world. Thank you.



New York Times
June 2, 2002

Fred Rogers
Children's television pioneer
Chatham College, Pittsburgh

Have you heard the story that came out of the Seattle Special Olympics?

For the 100-yard-dash there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun, they took off. But one little boy didn't get very far. He stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry.

The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around and ran back to him -- every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, "This will make it better." The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line.

They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long time. People who were there are still telling the story with obvious delight. And you know why?

Because deep down we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.

"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin

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