Pity the Man Who Knows More

Recently, I happened to be switching from tv channel to tv channel and stumbled upon a documentary on the BBC on child labour in one of the African nations. It featured the plight of 3 young boys, the older aged 15 and his brothers who were twins, aged 10. The boys would wake up early every morning and walk for some 2 hours to the copper mines to work. They would sieve sand and rock to uncover the copper and I saw that as they did this, they had a whole lot of dust floating all about their faces – no masks or scarfs to cover their noses or mouths. The boys would use their tiny hands, more so their fingernails to scrape the rock to find tiny copper bits. The British reporter shared that the boys would only get paid if they collected enough copper for the day, 1 kg in weight I vaguely recall her saying. At the end of the 16-hour work day, the boys gathered around with the other children waiting to be called upon to have their copper weighed. They clasped the little copper bits in their hands, every bit so precious. It was obviously impossible for them to collect that much copper given that did not have any tools and were already quite undernourished. So off they went, heading home with nothing in their hands for their day’s work and a 2-hour walk home ahead. The reporter said she asked them what they would do now that they had no money for food and they said they would drink some water and go to sleep. It was also reported that children were preferred because they get paid less for the copper they collected. It was a heartwrenching sight indeed.

I shared this with a friend of mine recently. He was also moved by the story and perhaps in offering some words of consolation, commented that it is probably the only life they know i.e. they did not know any other life. It occurred to me then that one of the boys had said that he wished he could be like the children in Europe, who get to go to school. He had seen it on television once. When I told my friend this, he remarked “Pity the man who knows more.”

Pity the man who knows more. It struck a chord with me. It seems like we usually pity the man who knows less, especially in an increasingly competitive and materialistic society. While it seems like we are driven as part of our human nature to seek knowledge and understanding, it also seems like knowing may not always be the better option. We discuss in our KM circle about knowing the unknown but what about unknowing the known – not in the sense of reversing what is already known for that is impossible, but avoiding knowledge for whatever specific reasons we may have. Have you ever been in a situation when you wished you didn’t know?

I pity those children although people say pity is a bad word. In my mind, I just keep seeing their little hands scraping the ground.

4 Comments so far

Matt Moore

Paolina - pity is a fine emotion as far as it goes. But it needs to be converted to action.

So what are we going to do to improve the lives of those children & others like them?

Posted on June 27, 2006 at 07:47 AM | Comment permalink


This is a very strong story Paolina. For me, it’s incredibly important that those children know more, because although it may sharpen their suffering, it is the only way that they can struggle for themselves out of their poverty. To be ignorant of a possibility is worse slavery; and that’s what totalitarian regimes bank upon. The power for change SHOULD come from visibility: our knowing that these things happen; their knowing that it’s not a “normal” condition to be in.

Posted on June 27, 2006 at 10:38 AM | Comment permalink


Matt, I guess the first step is awareness. Initially I thought there would be nothing much I can do as we usually hear of how aid never reaches those who need them.  Your question nonetheless has prompted me to find out what has been done and where I can help.

Found a report on the web titled “Investing in Every Child: An Economic Study of the Costs and Benefits of Eliminating Child Labour” published by the ILO in Jan 04. Will start with that. 

In the meantime, will offer a Mass for those children.

Thanks again.

Posted on June 27, 2006 at 05:32 PM | Comment permalink


I see your point Patrick. These children have to be resilient and turn that knowledge into positive action though rather than cause it to result in greater frustration and despair :(

Posted on June 27, 2006 at 08:08 PM | Comment permalink

Page 1 of 1 pages

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.

Comment Guidelines: Basic XHTML is allowed (<strong>, <em>, <a>) Line breaks and paragraphs are automatically generated. URLs are automatically converted into links.