Friday, 12 October 2012

First world problems

There is nothing that enrages me more than a smug, sanctimonious self-important asshole with a cause. I live in a privileged part of the world. I have both been very lucky, and worked very hard for what I have. I am happy in my life, and I am entitled to enjoy my happiness and my life.

What gives any human being the right to judge another human being for enjoying their life?

We all have one of those friends who forwards links to every cause and posts stories about every injustice taking place in the world in order to show how broad-minded and forward-thinking they are; and, by implication, how selfish the rest of us are. Not because this is a cause they support financially, volunteer time for, or are involved with in any way - simply because it points out how petty we are for thinking about our own lives when there is so much else going on in the world.

My Facebook status yesterday was that after weeks of hunting I'd found the Halloween costume I'd wanted for Baby - followed by the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #firstworldproblems. Because I'm fully aware that this is not a problem. Would the world have ended had I not found the costume? No. Would I have been disappointed? Possibly. Mildly.

This morning a friend posted a link to the story of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani blogger and activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to speak up for her right to education. His preface was about people who complain when they can't find that "just right" Halloween costume for their babies when there are things like this going on in the world - not terribly subtle.

Malala's story is a shocking and sickening - as are most of the stories that come out of that part of the world regarding the Taliban. It makes me physically sick to my stomach that human beings can behave that way to other human beings, and that things that we take so for granted in this part of the world - like girls being treated equally to boys and our children receiving an education - are so far out of reach in that part of the world.

There is incredible inequality and injustice in all parts of the world - horrible atrocities like women being murdered for attempting to exert the free will we take for granted, entire villages slowly starving to death while one night of our dinner leavings would feed a whole family, an entire race being forced to live in poverty, imprisoned, tortured and often killed because they were born on the wrong side of an invisible political line or the God they pray to goes by another name; closer to home, we have bullies torturing schoolmates to the point of suicide, parents beating their children, little girls with eating disorders, women being raped and blamed because they dress too provocatively. There is racism, sexism, staggering economic and political inequality the world over. These things are terrible, and we should all be aware of them and, if at all possible, help in any way we can.

But that doesn't make anyone a bad person for enjoying and living their own life as well.

I was lucky enough to have been born in a part of the world where free will and human rights are taken for granted, to parents who loved and nurtured me and provided me with a beautiful home and extra-curricular activities and family vacations and a university education, where what I do with my life is limited only by the choices I make. I could just as easily have been born in a part of the world where the mere fact that I was a girl would have eliminated my basic human rights, to parents who lacked the means to feed, clothe or shelter me if they were even still alive themselves, where getting through each day was a struggle and future plans involved how to find enough water to get through the next day. It's as simple as an accident of birth, and incredibly unfair that such staggering differences and inequalities exist. But, unfortunately, they do. And while we should certainly as a human race work to eliminate these inequalities - and the burden of that should absolutely lie more with those in the parts of the world that have the means to do so - I do not think that those of us who are lucky enough to live here should not be permitted to enjoy our own lives as well.

Humans are, by nature, selfish. Regard for other human beings is something we learn and develop by living and growing up in a society. In fact, sociopaths - characterized by narcissism and a lack of empathy or regard for other people - are not even diagnosed as children as the symptoms of this antisocial personality disorder are so similar to the behaviour naturally inherent in children anyway. Empathy for other human beings is not something we are born with. The instincts for self-preservation and self-interest are a deep-rooted part of human nature.

But we do learn empathy for other human beings. Most of us do our best to be as unselfish in our day-to-day lives as possible, and we do what we can within our means for those less fortunate. Perhaps you are the most altruistic person on the planet, living on the bare nminimum and donating the remainder of your paycheque to starving children in Africa and volunteering your vacation time to work with AIDS patients in Thailand. For that you should be commended. Perhaps all you do is post links to stories about those causes. That's fine too - spreading the word about a cause still helps that cause.

Personally, the only cause I contribute to on an international level is child poverty. Closer to home, we contribute to a children's hospital, the local women's shelter, and the breakfast-in-schools program. These are the causes which I have chosen to direct my resources toward, because these are the issues which tug at my heartstrings the most - some people contribute to animal welfare or the protection of the environment or building for the homeless. All equally admirable. We all do what we can, and we can't all do everything. Could I be doing more? Probably. But I don't think I'm doing any less than most people, and certainly a great deal more than many.

I realize it's positively absurd that, in my world, something like trying to schedule a weekend excursion to a theme park is challenging because of the kids' extra-curricular sports schedule, that rearranging the monthly budget is because we're planning a trip to Disney World, that I can spend hours out of my life searching out that perfect Halloween costume for my baby. Petty, silly luxuries compared to the real, raw problems that exist in the "real" world.

But this is my world. I am fortunate enough to have been born into this world, and very grateful for that. I do what I can to help those less fortunate, and I teach my children the same. But I also take them to theme parks and on vacations and look for the perfect Halloween costume. I hope they grow up learning to be grateful, to appreciate what they have, and the importance of giving back and helping others; I also hope they learn that if they work for it they can have a happy life, because that is a privilege we enjoy in this part of the world. I live in the first world and I am entitled to enjoy my life here with its #firstworldproblems.

And I will not apologize for that.


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