Friday, September 21, 2007

living in the lap of luxury

Thinking back to school days I have no doubt my teachers intended me to learn all sorts of weighty knowledge, and it's likely that I did imbibe some of what they sought to impart. Perhaps I even learned huge swathes of facts and figures - I sure studied hard enough!

Thinking back though, it's mostly irrelevant things I recall... creating volcanoes in the sandpit, concocting rotten egg gas, resting a needle on the meniscus of a glass of water, the extra trill tacked onto the end of a piece of music, crying with Bob Hawke over Tiananmen Square, the quirky personality of a lecturer donned in thongs rain, hail or shine. Arguably the most useful thing I remember is the definition of osmosis: the movement of particles from a region of high concentration to a region of low concentration through a semi-permeable membrane.

All those years spent studying and I can only hope my knowledge base is fat with a general air of knowing. Because the facts and figures slipped away long ago!

In the intervening years since school not that much has changed - I still seem programmed to remember the incidental, inconsequential things and forget the relevant bytes of information. Working in my favour is the way all those incidental, inconsequential things weave themselves together into something truly useful that guides my life. (I'm still figuring out the useful contribution of needles on menisci and rotten egg gas...) Snatches of truth, principles, generalities... all converge to produce an idea that gains significance in the nitty gritty of everyday life.

Lately a host of truths, principles and generalities have been snapping together like magnets in my mind. World poverty, ethical eating, environmental conscience, sustainable living... these and many other ideas swim around in my head, seeking each other out, forming values and beliefs, influencing my behaviour.

A thought from my recent residential school is a case in point. We were discussing the counselling needs of people who have experienced trauma and loss when the lecturer pointed out that the very fact we have time and space to discuss such events with a counsellor is testimony to the privilege and luxury we enjoy. Many of the world's population do not have access to this privilege - their trauma and losses are incomprehensibly greater than our own, yet they are so caught up in the task of survival that they have no resources left for processing their experiences.

I can't shake that thought, the thought of the luxury and privilege I enjoy. For one, I can afford to study! (Leave alone having the chance to learn to read) Then there is my choice to work part time, not because I have children or an injury, but simply because of the quality of life it affords me. As I sit and study, or read, or cook for pleasure I am plagued by visions of those who must work tirelessly through every day to simply survive: gathering wood; milking goats; grinding wheat. And what about our new car? The one with the six stack CD player? Most people of the world can only dream of such a grand possession.

Yes, I live in the lap of luxury.

It all came home a little more strongly this afternoon. Today Frank and I heard about a young orphan boy in Kenya who lives in a single room with his grandparents and plays with cars he makes from wire. I wept.

What a world. That I can be so, so rich while this boy is so, so poor. That I have food, and shelter, and transport, and education while he has so little. That we in the West perpetuate his poverty with our systems of exploitation and greed. This is a travesty.

May I be responsible with my wealth, using it to ease the pain of those who experience little in the way of luxury, promoting the principles of justice and compassion and resisting the urge to think only of myself.

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At 11:45 am, September 23, 2007, Blogger Deanna said...

I know what you mean about studying long and hard, only to have a few odd things available for easy access. Maybe the rest float around somewhere! It's great you use "thong" the way I do, although nowadays in my country people give me odd looks if I say I lost one of my thongs.

As for your serious sentiments, they are so important to keep in mind. On my worst days I have it much better than many people ever dream. Yet I think people in undeveloped places do have good lives; and it wouldn't hurt me to work much harder. But mourning the fact of poor people's sufferings and trying to help when a way presents itself is very worthwhile. Good for you.

At 5:58 pm, September 23, 2007, Blogger Mike S said...

What's even sadder is knowing that those same conditions can be found in pockets of poverty in almost all of the countries of the West as well. One of the noblest things a person can do in life is to strive to ease the suffering of those less affluent than ourselves. That applies whether rich or poor.
Some of the happiest folks I've had the pleasure of knowing were also some of the world's poorest in material goods and food.
Never waste time and energy bemoaning the plight of the world's masses, rather, get busy and help enrich somebody else's life. No matter how small the effort seems, somebody will be the better for it.

At 2:28 pm, September 24, 2007, Blogger Robyn said...

So true Cec. I've been thinking a lot along the lines of how I've been blessed to be a blessing...and the responsibility that entails.

At 1:51 am, September 26, 2007, Blogger Cherie said...

Thought-provoking, Cecily.

Wealth is measured in ways other than material, but the material things do add comfort as you suggest. That little boy probably has loads of fun playing with his little wire car and doesn't even know he's not playing Nintendo, skateboarding, or stacking up Legos.

Sometimes I think it is we in the west who are poverty stricken in our busyness, luxury, aversion to sweat (except at the gym, of course), and our biased way of measuring our very neighbors.

You gave me something to chew on, Cec.Thanks!

At 6:46 pm, September 27, 2007, Blogger Robyn said...

Are you in Newcastle at the moment?? If not, there is a woman who is your CLONE driving around. Seriously I was so sure it was you that if I hadn't been in a rush I would have done a u-turn and pursued her....and probably scared some poor woman half to death!

At 10:22 pm, September 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cherie has it right I think. He who has the least has the most. I know whose footprint would be smaller. There's a message there, isn't there... JG

At 8:31 am, September 30, 2007, Blogger Angela said...

cecily, i stopped shopping at wal-mart a couple of years ago and my sister, who still shops there, said to me one day when we were discussing something i needed to buy, "but it's way cheaper at wal-mart, you're going to spend more money somewhere else," as if that should end all discussions, as if i were shopping elsewhere because i would save money. and it suddenly hit me that it is so difficult to change our habits of abusing our wealth because we keep measuring things by the same ruler we have always used. my sister is a very generous, thoughtful person, but it has been so thoroughly ingrained in her that it's (almost)a sin to not get the best deal possible, so that it's very difficult for her to shift her thinking at this point. it's a matter of changing everything, now, not just where you shop.

At 9:38 am, September 30, 2007, Blogger Sandy's Notes said...

Cecily, beautiful post. I agree with Mike, "One of the noblest things a person can do in life is to strive to ease the suffering of those less affluent than ourselves."

Right now we're running a fundraiser for orphaned children who are living in garbage heaps in Kenya, eating what ever they can. The money will go for their schooling and housing to take them off the streets and give them a home and an education. This same fundraiser will help people around our own home for women that have been abused so badly as children they cannot function, as well as other handicapped people. Not that we are so noble, we're not, we're just trying to find a way to help. Finding the "balance" has come to be my new favorite saying. We must keep improving our own lives to help improve other's.

I have found that money is not necessarily the key ingredient to helping others, a heart is. I have seen even the most poverty stricken people help others in ways that I could not imagine. What a world we live in!

At 8:05 am, October 01, 2007, Blogger Deanna said...

I tagged you.


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