I have always been fairly aware about world news and the struggles many people face on a daily basis. However, like many privileged young Americans, I could easily leave that knowledge behind and continue with my unthreatened lifestyle. Not to say that in general I live completely oblivious to the needs of others, but let’s face it… aren’t there always going to be people going through tough times?
In response to the convenience of such indolent assumptions, my parents are firm believers in education and international travel. Unlike some other families who might go to Spain to sit at a resort on the beach, our trips consist of countless history lessons in less glamorous destinations. Being privileged enough to have explored over sixteen countries is, ironically, what made me most aware of the destitution in our world. These rare looks demonstrated, perhaps most remarkably, the essential fact that we are all simply people.
I was only ten years old when I went to the place that made me come to realize this simple, yet powerful fact. We only stayed in Tangier, Morocco for two or three days, but two minutes would have been sufficient enough time to make a lasting impression. I don’t remember much about the city or history, just that there was a terrible smell that seemed to cling to everything. It was five children in that poverty-stricken city that taught me so much about the world. They were all about my age, filthy, and barely clothed in rags. There was such a contrast between them and the beggars on benches and wielding signs in Denver. They approached our group, their arms outstretched, and their mouths chewing imaginary food that they hoped we would supply. I felt increasingly self-conscious, standing there with my spotless new clothes and recently satiated stomach. What haunts me the most from that encounter is when my eyes met those of a boy about my age; they were tired, aged eyes. No lecture, magazine, or TV program could convey what those eyes did. They were of a child, just like me, but they had witnessed more desperation than mine probably ever would. It is easy to pass by a name or a faint image, but something as personal as a set of eyes relays a sense of individuality and humanity that is impossible to forget.
Ever since that incident five years ago, I have understood that the people in the world who suffer mustn’t just be labeled and categorized. It is much too easy to superficially sympathize with and quickly disregard “the impoverished” and “the persecuted”. I admit, with some self-reproach, that my life hasn’t been completely changed, and there are many more proactive people than me. However, when I occasionally reflect on my life and the world around me, I remember. I believe in order to truly empathize with any group of people or situation, I must first relate to each and every one of them as an individual and fellow human being.
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