In grade 4, my class was given a social studies assignment. We had to split into groups and decide what we would donate to children in a 3rd world country if we had the resources to do so. With our 9 year-old wisdom, our class came up with equal parts practical necessities, like food, water, and shelter, and frivolous first world luxuries, like Nintendo game systems, Barbies, and big screen TVs.
Then my teacher asked us something that changed how I viewed the assignment. “Why would a child without food need a big screen TV?” He told us to try and see things from their perspective, not ours.
Prior to that, our class based what we thought children our age would want by what we wanted. It didn’t even occur to us that a child that grew up with little would be satisfied with whatever they were given.
Most of us–even the children we considered to be poor were blessed to have more than we would ever need. At the time, we couldn’t empathize with children from 3rd world countries because our day-to-day reality was so far removed from theirs.
For us, a world without TV would be a nightmare, so of course, it must be a nightmare for all children everywhere. Every little girl wants a Barbie, so naturally that gets added to the list too. What we learned that day, was how our worst nightmare as privileged 1st world students, pales in comparison to the daily lives of many 3rd world children.
I never have to worry about where I’m going to get water and when I get water, I rarely have to think about whether it is safe to drink.
I have plenty of food in my fridge. (Hey, the fact that I have a fridge is something to celebrate!)
I have had access to the tools I need to get an education since I was four, and as a woman, I have never had my right to be educated called into question.
I have never had to choose between becoming a child soldier, or witnessing the murder of my entire family.
I have never been trafficked to another country for the purpose of becoming a prostitute.
I have never been beaten or maimed because my actions brought shame to my family.
I don’t have to go to a dump and scrounge through garbage to find food–or things to sell so I can afford to buy food.
I can freely practice my religion without being persecuted for it.
I was born into a loving family who always have my best interests at heart.
When I am sick, I can go to the hospital and get whatever I need to be healed. (This is Canada so I may have to wait a while, but I’ll get what I need eventually.)
I may not have what everyone else has. I don’t have as many pairs of shoes. I can’t drive, and I don’t have my own house. I still can’t deny that I am blessed.
I know that bringing to light the ways in which others are suffering doesn’t help to minimize our own pain. What it does, however, is bring some much needed perspective.
Last week, my pastor said that we were suffering from an affliction called “affluenza”. We have so much, that rather than sharing what we have with those who have less, we focus on getting more and hoarding it. We have become so competitive, that if anyone else appears to have more than we do, we pout, whine, and hustle until we get more than they have.
Placing an inflated value on material things is a trap. The most invaluable items any person can have are those that can’t be bought. You can’t buy love.
You can’t purchase wisdom or common sense. You can’t even bribe to gain real friends, though many have tried.
You could offer me all of the Prada bags in the world, but I would never trade my peace for a purse.
I’d rather have joy than jewelry.
I’d rather be secure in a mud hut, than insecure in a mansion.
I’d easily choose a good name over a position of power. (A good name keeps you in a position of power no matter how menial your job is)
One friend who loves you for you is better than ten friends who only love you because of how you make them feel.
The most valuable things in life are usually the ones that are ignored the most. Things like, fostering good relationships, living a life of integrity, sharing your gifts with other people, being generous, forgiving people of past wrongs, reserving judgment, and doing the right thing because it is right.
What my teacher taught me, 22 years ago still stands. Having luxuries is a nice distraction, but it is no replacement for getting everything you need to live a productive life–whether it’s a necessity, like food, or an important life skill, like common sense.
I once read that the most meaningful resources a person can attain are hidden so that they can only be found by people who look for them.
If you look for peace in a job title, or love, in a handbag, you won’t find it. Love is found among your friends and family, and in your unconditional acceptance of the person you are.
Peace isn’t found by getting everything you want. It is a feeling of contentment that is evident even though nothing is going the way you planned.
Integrity isn’t about doing the right thing only when you’re being watched. It’s about doing what is right–whether you have an audience or not. Power isn’t gained by domination. Real power can follow orders just as well as it gives them.
Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose. Instead, look for what will last, and build your life around it.