There are many books out there on the shelves that explore the causes, systems, and prejudices behind global poverty.
Rightfully so, I hasten to add, for what happens globally affects us all, whether we realize it at the time or not.
No doubt the subject of global human health should have a wide array of research all over bookshelves.
More precisely, though, there is perhaps not enough focus on the poverty of women, their families, and the entire communities in which they live. It isn’t just an issue in the United States. It is one around our world.
Few books I’ve read explore the complex subject of global poverty with more depth, sensitivity, grace, remarkable empathy, and passion than Melinda Gates in her debut book, The Moment of Lift.
This book is nothing short of a stunning achievement. It is also a manifesto of female empowerment, a manifesto of the invisible labor that women take under their wings, and a manifesto about the pursuit of knowledge as a key to improving others’ lives.
Even more than that, however, it is an adamant call to action. In fact, the opening line is from Marianne Williams’ famous anthem. It goes as such:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
What a revelation.
The way Gates structures her story is as well-thought-out as the individual steps on her journey- and there are many steps. The one single, tiny qualm I have with the book is that it tends to pack a lot of stories into a single section. I found, at times, that I did have trouble keeping track. All the same, each story packs a punch.
But we learn a good deal about Melinda’s own story as well, and the path that led her to this book. And she makes her perspective stick. Gates does a great job with acknowledging her own privilege as a wealthy white female, while also being insightful about how similar worldwide gender bias tends to be.
She first takes us back to the beginning, where she grew up as a child in Dallas, Texas where her dad was an aerospace engineer involved in rocket launches-exactly where she first learned about this moment of lift. But what it would come to represent for her was something not entirely physical. It was also spiritual.
The moment of lift goes beyond just a metaphorical “lift towards the sky.”
She would later come to see this lift in her personal life as well. Lift, to Gates, meant not just lifting others up so they may succeed. No. It is lifting people up while simultaneously understanding that they as a person (or people) have something to offer. Rather than, say, swooping in as a white savior- which many books written on these subjects lean toward.
Lifting is about recognizing our own blind spots, which we cannot do until we part from the mindset of “us” & “them.” It is about recognizing that we have far more in common with people than we could ever, ever see on the surface.
Perhaps most of all, it is about recognizing the fact that were we to see people as just like us, we’d realize how humble, how weak, how flawed we all truly are.
Writes Gates, “Saving lives starts with bringing everyone in. Our societies will be healthiest when they have no outsiders…We have to wake up to the ways we exclude…It’s not enough to help outsiders fight their way in- the real triumph will come when we no longer push anyone out” (Gates, 53).
My favorite quote by Melinda Gates, ever: “Their cup is not empty.”
Meaning: These people and their culture(s) are still worth something, still worthy, even if we don’t see eye to eye on everything. We must extend a hand. We must bridge the gap. Not only that, but Gates is particularly sensitive to bringing the gap in a way that can be truly, naturally, understood by leaders within these cultures, instead of pounding them with facts. Instead of rushing, swooping in.
Whether she’s describing the misconceptions about family planning, the dangers women face due to stigma, whether it’s around illness, childbirth, or infant care, or the ways in which she literally took people on the ground in India to stop child marriage, to the ways that she emphasized the education of girls as a means of self-regard and empowerment, everything is told with heartfelt intentionality, vigor, and wide open eyes.
The best part about these stories? Where the book has plenty of numbers (data) to back it up, it also reminds us that these numbers represent people’s individual stories. These are humans with names, with children, with personalities, with hobbies, with lives. Lives just like ours. “We don’t like to confess what we have in common with outsiders because it’s too humbling. It suggests that maybe success and failure aren’t entirely fair. And if you know you got the better deal, then you have to be humble, and it hurts to give up your sense of superiority” (Gates, 52).
I’ll end with this: This is perhaps the most difficult book review I’ve had to write thus far, simply because it cannot be summarized. It’s too good for that- and to try to condense something this meaty and deep and to whittle it down is to do it a grand injustice. Instead, I shall tell you this: If you think you have it all, then you need to read this book. If you’re looking to find purpose in your every day interactions with others, read this book. If you want to understand not just poverty in our country, but in many countries, then read this book. If you want to be moved to tears by the compassion in so many souls, read this book.
And, if like me, you feel a little lost at the end of each week and you need something to recenter you, read this book. :) Melinda Gates is a force with which to be reckoned.