Having chosen a career with an international focus, having lived in the developing world, what comes to mind often while talking with old friends and acquaintances, is that we have markedly different paradigms. The core for me, that I keep coming back to, particularly living in such an irrationally comfortable place as I do, is that I see my comfort as being bought with the suffering of others. I remember writing a letter to my sister while I was living in my West African village during the Peace Corps, responding to some off-hand comment she’d made about how unbelievable my living without some particular amenity was. I told her that I was living the way most of the population of this world lives – on a dollar or two a day, by candlelight at night, and bathing with cold water I poured over myself. Most of this world is poor, and poor as in hungry sometimes, as in near or below subsistence level. I know I’m not saying anything new or insightful. But I’m not trying to, because obviously it bears repeating, again and again until everyone knows beyond facts and figures that there exist linkages that connect the unfathomably poor to me and you and our comparatively lush lifestyle and to know that in some very real ways, we’re living on their backs.
And at first, I thought that was my belief. But I can draw you diagrams and show you documentary films, and give you books and write you papers that show you how the suffering of many of the world’s poor is linked to my ability to pay for my apartment, car and daily Starbucks. And when I thought about it like that – how I could support my belief with footnote citations – it hardly seemed like a belief. I realized, what really makes me feel differently is not even this awareness – because everyone knows about the developing world. What I believe is that one person can make change, that by touching other people and making an effort to make some sort of difference, I can do something, and that the something I can do is worthwhile. I believe that it does not have to be this way – I can look at the world order and think, this is not inevitable, we make the world order and we can make it better. And so, I think about the people who live through hungry seasons instead of summers and think, what can I do, how could I adjust my life to try to make theirs a little less hungry, and that this willingness and the effort are the first steps in the right direction. And while I know that I can’t fix any of it single handedly, I believe that in my striving to impact these injustices, I am making progress towards that impact.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.