Friday, April 21, 2017

Six Privileges of Living in a Wealthy Country

Some benefits to living in a wealthy country are obvious:  Access to clean water, free schools, plenty of available food, non-stop electricity.  But it wasn't until I had lived in a developing country for a number of years that I started seeing the more subtle privileges.  

1.       The privilege of choosing your career.  What do you want to be when you grow up?  is a standard question for children.  We encourage our children to dream big, to set goals, to reach for the stars.  We take personality tests and analyze our strengths.  Yet for most of the world, this is never even a consideration.  For most, a job isn’t about personal fulfillment, it’s a way to survive.  That means you take any job you can get, whether it’s digging ditches or selling boxes of Kleenex on the side of the road.  And working in fast food?  That’s one of the better careers out there. 

2.       The privilege of reasonable commute time.  I'm currently visiting Los Angeles, which has the worst commute time in the United States.  But compared to the rest of the world?  It ranks 12th.  Out of the 50 cities worldwide with the worst commute times, America has only three. We also must consider that for most people in the world, getting to work isn't in a private, air conditioned car with leather seats.  Imagine an hour or two--each direction--standing in a packed bus or train.  Every day.

3.       The privilege of protecting your children.  Every morning, I have watched children as young as four or five years old walking a mile to school along busy roads with no sidewalks.  Do their parents worry?  They certainly told me they do.  But since parents have their own hour-plus commute every morning, and they can’t afford school bus fare, they don’t have much of a choice. 

4.       The privilege of seeing your children reach their potential.  Sports teams, music and art lessons, even educational toys are all at our children’s fingertips.  Learning to read and write is an assumption, and if we discover a particular talent in a child, we nurture it.  But in the majority of the world, this doesn’t happen.  Children are often crowded into classrooms of 50 or even 100, and books or other resources are scarce or non-existent.  How many potential Olympians, musical prodigies, or brilliant scientists are languishing in developing countries, with no opportunity to develop their potential?

5.       The privilege of food choices.  Eliminating gluten, dairy, grains, peanuts, and meat, or switching to organic food has become a popular way of improving health in western society.  But what you may not realize is that this is a distinct privilege of living in a wealthy country.  Even in countries where food is not scarce, choice is not an option.  Pesticides are a cheap and easy way to increase crop production and are rarely regulated.  And in many countries, eliminating grains or carbs means there would be hardly anything left to eat. 

6.       The privilege of knowing why people die.  Of course, having some of the best health care in the world means that in wealthy countries, a lot less people die in the first place.  But when they do, at least we know why.  I can think of countless incidences in East Africa of babies, children, or adults dying—sometimes falling over dead after a short illness—and no one has any idea why.  Cancer?  Heart attack?  Diabetes?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  They will never know. 

Of course, not every person in a wealthy country has all these privileges, and not every person in a developing country does not.  And there's always people like me, who get the benefits of being from a wealthy country, even while living in a developing one.  The life I take for granted is not a reality for billions of people.  And coming to grips with my privileges has helped me to be more grateful, more content, and more eager to wisely use what I have been given. 

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