As an officer in the army, we always had a catch phrase in the front of our minds when making decisions: “choose the hard right over the easy wrong.” The premise, of course, is that there was always an opportunity to take a shortcut that would ultimately risk future success. As leaders, we were charged with choosing what was right, rather than what was easy or what would gain us popularity. Despite our vigilance and best intentions, the temptation always loomed. The easy wrong is easy and we might just get away with it.
I now find that simple anecdote as poignant as ever as we maintain the direction of a charity that works with extreme poverty, child homelessness, delinquency and neglect. There’s an easy wrong that removes the surface of the problem from our view. There’s an easy wrong that is better at producing heartwarming stories than actually making a difference. There is an easy wrong that generates massive donations. We won’t do any of it. The easy wrong is still wrong.
There’s a hard right which is intimidating, slow and takes every bit of devotion we have to give. The hard right tells us not to just build a shelter for young adults to get them off the streets. It tells us to walk with them, to build them into the men that they were meant to be and not rob them of the opportunity to achieve success themselves. It takes time. We don’t get photo opportunities. We don’t care. What we do with them works.
The hard right tells us to do everything possible to help a family to care for a child, rather than find a group home. It would be easy to provide food and clothing en masse every month, but that would rob people of the dignity of standing on their own two feet. It is much harder to identify skills and encourage families to save towards their goals. Hard, but right.
The hard right stops us bringing in swarms of international helpers to focus instead on building local staff.
The hard right has our strategic focus on children and not potential donors.
People always assume that we have a fancy office from where we run our operations. For now, the hard right means our office is wherever we are: a sidewalk, an abandoned house, a dump, an overcrowded bus, a village or a classroom.
When does the hard right become worth it? Wait for it. There’s a group of forgotten children here in Lesotho who are growing strong, learning to choose what is better over what is immediate. They will bring other forgotten children with them, walking the hard road and doing what’s right.