It is hard to believe, after the past 2 years travelling in some of the most poverty stricken parts of the globe and visiting the most disadvantaged communities, that so many people choose to remain conveniently oblivious to the suffering of our fellow human beings. The cocooned environment of the sheltered, cozy western lifestyle has the habit of cutting people off from connecting with society at large. We fall into a truly detrimental pattern of becoming caught up in trivial ‘first world problems’ in our own lives. Believe me I know. However we must see these things for what they are – trivial and look to how we can all make an impact on humanity.
To be completely honest, since returning to ‘my world’, it has been hard for me – I am completely disillusioned by western society. When I initially left to volunteer in January 2013, I thought I gave up so much, throwing away everything to help those most in need. I left a job that was paying me a substantial amount, I sold my house, my car and every single possession I had. What I realised on my journey was that I didn’t give up anything at all. Nothing important anyway. What I gained was a wealth of perspective from my experiences and from the courageous, life-loving people I met along the way, that has changed the course of my life for the better. By escaping the daily rat race I was liberated to finally live a life that is in sync with my own moral values – the only way of leading ones life that I believe is truly satisfying.
It seems that for those of us who are privileged enough to live in western, developed societies, or have socio-economic power, we need to set our priorities straight. Many of us have been fooled into a very empty and meaningless existence. I am the first person to raise my hand and honestly and say that for a large portion of my life, my corporate career, my car, my paycheck and the material possessions I owned distracted me from seeing what was real and what was truly important – helping others and this has led to a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
I often find myself laying awake at night thinking about how others define things like success and happiness – I think for so many it is so very different. Do I think I have found the secret to it all – well, yes. I have found that when you give to those who need it most it is truly rewarding in the long term, both for you the giver, and the receiver. By elevating the lives of others, your own life reaches its highest dimensions. It all comes down to your decision on the kind of person you want to be, and the kind of life you want to lead. I have found it useful to take a deathbed mentality to set your priorities straight. Thinking of that moment of drawing your last breathes and reflecting on your life in terms of your achievements, happiness, things you were proud of, and things you wished you would have done. More often than not, your contribution to society, or rather, your contribution to people, will become a priority when taking on a deathbed mentality. It’s never too late or too early to chase a life of meaning, whether your 21, 41 or 81. Every one falls of the path here and there. The person you are is defined by your strength of character, will, compassion and courage to get back on track. The world changes by actions. Equally the world changes by the contribution of people working towards the betterment of society.
I’m not trying to convince you to give up your current life, career, or everyday comforts to volunteer in some of the poorest nations in the world – that was my path and each of us must follow our own. Nor am I trying to force you to donate. I am, however, making the point that we should all take the time to check our privilege. To recognise how lucky we are that our basic human needs are met, allowing us too much time to nitpick over the little things, the trivial things, such as planning our next holiday, deciding which car to buy, buying the latest trends in health foods in order to watch our diet, school assessments. On the flipside, for a large proportion of the worlds population who’s lives are mired by poverty, malnutrition, unclean drinking water, dirty living conditions, fear for personal safety, inability to access quality education and living off less than $1.25 a day are their daily existence.
I often feel discouraged by the thought that there are too few who really care, or can be bothered to work towards affecting social change in our present time. Alleviating poverty has more often than not been dropped in the ‘too hard pile’ by our society. This is more often than not, a result of thinking small. I believe that negativity is not a constructive emotion, and therefore am optimistic for the future of my organization, IBSH, in affecting REAL social change by offering hope and a helping hand to as many disadvantaged youths as possible. If there were only cynics in the world, nothing would change. It is by only by maintaining positivity, strength and courage in the face of adversity, that what others label ‘the impossible’ becomes possible. It is better to have some who donate, volunteer or dedicate their lives to helping others to have the same advantages in life than none at all.
So why not give a little? Why not give a lot? Why not give to others based on our own human desire to help people, instead of having to be reminded by shock value news reports and videos of people suffering. In reality we all know people are suffering. What it comes down to is our decision of whether or not to act. Thinking ‘how horrible!’, or ‘those poor things’ really doesn’t cut it. Empathy is an amazing thing we human beings possess. However, we need to translate that empathy from being merely passive thought into ACTION! Problems are only solved when people become involved. The power lies in us, and the privilege we possess which allows us to commit ordinary acts of extraordinary kindness.
To that end I leave you with this quote:
“The only time you should check in your neighbours bowl is to make sure they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbours bowl to see if you have as much as them”– Louis C.K