As a young man I heard a lecture by an eminent academic who argued that producing wheat to feed the emerging world isn’t a good idea. How is that possible? People in the Third World were starving and we had the ability to ameliorate the tragedy by providing food. Sounds intuitively simple, but it isn’t. Feeding the starving only allows people to survive and produce more babies to increase population with more mouths to feed. The do-gooder finds himself chasing his shadow.

In San Francisco we built shelters for the homeless. On night one, we had 326 homeless come in from the cold for a meal, a shower and a clean bed. The word soon got out how we took care of our homeless, stimulating a wave of new arrivals from the Mid-West and East-Coast. In a short while, the shelter became inadequate to comfort all the new homeless. We had inadvertently created a bigger problem than we solved.

A game warden in an African reserve told me that when elephants were dying from thirst the authorities dug new water holes so the elephants and other animals could drink all year long. Within two years the entire reserve was overrun with hungry elephants, eating the park into oblivion and destroying the wild life sanctuary. In Africa, drought, it was learned, is an essential part of animal conservation. Filling water holes year round was a big flop.

So how do you manage the dilemma? Everyone wants to do good and they can in the short run, but long-term is another situation. Before jumping, consider the long-term consequences. Then do your very best to be helpful and don’t be disappointed if you hit a single rather than a home-run.