The other night, Aaron and I took an evening stroll to a fro-yo shop in our neighborhood. As we were walking, I couldn’t help but note how extraordinary our lives are. There we were, walking down a quiet, safe street, only a few blocks from the beautiful Chesapeake Bay, enjoying a warm [almost] summer night and looking forward to some low-guilt, wannabe ice cream.
A month ago, I was driving through the most run-down, unsafe area of Baltimore, getting rocks thrown at my car by people who hated me, presumably because they knew I was the kind of girl who lives an easy life based on my skin color and 2012 Ford Fusion.
I’m not saying that my life is completely easy, as seen by the fact that my mom died and by daily issues that provoke stress or anxiety, but I can’t exactly deny my privilege. Not that those people on the dirty streets of Baltimore were entitled to hate me simply because I am white, or that they had a right to take their frustrations and anger out on me. Still, would I feel bitterness towards a sect of people who go about their usual routines of romantic, quiet strolls to fro-yo while I struggled just to exist every day? Would I be frustrated that they didn’t *seemingly* acknowledge my difficulties?
The educated, upper-middle class white girl in me likes to think that I’d work hard to change my circumstances without hating people that I don’t even know…but that’s a pretty highfalutin assumption to make about myself.
I don’t want this post to turn ultra-political or anything, because like with everything in life, I do not believe that solutions to social issues are black and white (no pun intended). Unfortunately, our two-party system basically shoves people into one of two categories: Selfish jerks who hate poor people, or people who believe it’s a crime to be rich. Ugh.
So, no, I will not tell you where I fall on the political spectrum, because honestly, I don’t even fully know, myself. No politician or party has come up with a solution to the economic gap that seems remotely fair or reasonable, so instead, I just want to write about the importance of simply recognizing how different our life experiences can be from those of others.
It’s easy for us to always look to the tier “above” us when we recognize gaps. “They have more.” “I wish my life was as easy as theirs is.” “If I had husband, I’d be happier.” “If I had more money, I’d be less stressed.” “If my parents hadn’t divorced when I was younger, I’d be less critical toward love.”
We look at the people who have things we don’t have, and get annoyed– even consumed– with the difference between us.
But it’s not as common for us to dwell on the lives that are significantly harder than our own. I thank God for my husband and family and financial security on a daily basis, but I find myself daydreaming of having even more. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a house, not an apartment? Wouldn’t it be great if I was in better shape? Wouldn’t I love life so much more if my blog had a million followers?
Yes, I recognize that I’m lucky to have a comfortable apartment near the beach. Yes, I recognize that I am mentally and physically capable of doing whatever I please, while many people struggle with their health. Yes, I know that I’m #blessed for getting to do what I love (i.e. write this blog) without juggling another job to pay the bills. I don’t take those things for granted. I really don’t.
But, as humans, we’re extremely inclined to see what “could be better.” We’re far more tuned into lifestyles we want, rather than focused on the sometimes uncomfortable worlds of people with less. I was shaken by the cracked-out people wandering into the middle of the street in Baltimore, shocked by the teenagers who threw rocks at my car, and slightly peeved that I didn’t feel safe coming to a complete stop at stop signs. It’s not that I didn’t know areas like that exist, but I don’t particularly enjoy exposing myself to them, so I don’t. I’d rather not see it or think about it or deal with it.
I was introduced to extreme poverty as a teenager when I visited Chennai, India. Interestingly, the people of India who had nothing didn’t seem to blame me, a wealthy Westerner, for their troubles. They didn’t even seem to compare themselves to me at all, for that matter. It may have something to do with the fact that we live in different countries, so they don’t expect our lives to look similar, but more than that, I think it had to do with their perspective.
When I entered the “house” of one woman in India, she expressed immense gratitude that I would even spend time with her. She shared one damp stone “room” on the side of a dirt street with her husband and three children. They took turns sharing the pillow each night, and there was only one cot. As I said goodbye, she gave me her hair tie– the only thing she had to offer as a sign of how much she appreciated my visit.
That concept was so foreign to me. In America, we bring a bottle of wine or something to the host as a “thank you for having me.” We don’t give gifts of gratitude for people who let us serve and host them. But in India– at least where I visited– people felt honored to serve. Honored to give. Honored to engage with a new human, no matter how much more their guest had than they did. Honored, not bitter.
The nuisances between the poverty in India and the poverty in America definitely differ, so I’m not saying there’s no reason for those rock-throwers in Baltimore to feel frustrated with our gap in resources. I can’t speak for their experiences or reasoning, because I have not lived it. But for me– for my wishes and desires that go beyond what I already have– I want to be more like the people I met in India. I want to feel less attachment to my material possessions or comforts, and instead use them as tools of encouragement for others. I want to see people as people, not as beings defined by having something I want.
I also want to keep a clearer sense of my comforts. While I don’t think I should walk around burdened by guilt for riding a nice bicycle down a clean street to an air-conditioned Starbucks every morning, I need to remember the reality of those streets of Baltimore or the slums of India. Instead of letting my mind wander to all of the things I’d like to have, I should train my mind to wander in the direction of gratitude, or ways I can better the lives of people who don’t have what I do– financially and beyond. I can’t find everyone a husband or buy them a house or give them two working legs, but I can volunteer, pray, and give value to every perspective, instead of simply getting mad that some of those perspectives lead to poor choices, like throwing rocks at my car.
I’m assuming that most of you who take the time to read a lifestyle + humor blog have the basic necessities in life, which means you’re probably living with a similar level of comfort as I am. I hope this post is a reminder of how different the world looks to some people, and gives you the motivation to consistently challenge your own perception of reality.
I’m not saying you need to sell everything you own just to prove that you care about people who have less than you do, but all I ask is that you appreciate any sort of privilege in your life, and strive to live with contented hearts like the people I met in India. Like I said, your privileges can reach beyond finances. They can be familial, romantic, or physical– anything for which you can be grateful (or naturally be inclined to desire more of/something better). Living in a comfortable bubble, or worse, being drowned by comparisons to people with more, will only shrink your happiness and limit your influence on the world.
So take note of how nice it is to walk to fro-yo with your husband on a beautiful summer night, and let that gratitude guide you toward happiness, motivate you to do what you can to better the lives of people with less, and expand your interpretation of life.