This afternoon I watched a mother crouch next to her toddler daughter on the side a fetid city street. She lifted noodles from a small plastic bowl and pushed them into the little girl’s mouth. The girl — she was three years old, perhaps — was closing her eyes after each bite in a way that made me think she was savoring her meal. She and her mother were both smiling and laughing with one another.
Today I am in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. This kingdom has an economy that is growing quickly, but many people are being left behind. There is a lot of poverty here and a lot of desperation.
I am so fortunate to get to have these sorts of experiences. When I do, I am reminded that people in places like this are absolutely no different than you and me. They do not deserve their poverty any more than we deserve our wealth.
We are so fortunate.
We belong to a small number of people ever to have lived on this planet who do not have much cause to worry for their day-to-day safety, or about access to food, or about access to clean water, or about shelter, or about education.
That is not so say that we don’t have real problems. It is not to say we cannot have and air grievances. It is not so say we cannot feel slighted or that we shouldn’t demand change.
But it’s helpful, I think, to have opportunities like this — to put all of those problems into perspective.
Certainly, we can be proud of what our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did to make this possible for us. But it behooves us to never forget that all of this happened largely independent of anything we have done in our own lives. And it is important to consider, as well, that there is little privilege in this world that wasn’t built on the exploitation of someone else’s parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
Does that make us obligated in some way to help others who are not so fortunate? I think so, and I think you will come to think so, too.
How? That is a much harder and much more complicated question.
But here is a place to start: Smile more. Laugh more. Savor more. If people in desperate situations can do these things, we have no excuse not to do so as well.