Monday, September 8, 2008

On Being Affluent

Rich. Poor. Middle-class. Wealthy. Broke.

These words are relative terms. A rich person is defined as rich because he has more money than everyone else. Likewise, a poor person is considered poor if they have much less money than the average person. Without anything to compare to, the words are rendered meaningless.

In our celebrity-obsessed society, it is too easy, then, to watch TV, and think, well, my life isn't like Paris Hilton's so I must not be affluent. If I am poorer than Brad Pitt, then I must be poor.

It is too easy to look at what you DON'T have.

Today, I spent fifteen minutes gazing out the window at some children playing cricket in a narrow strip a few feet from the railroad tracks. While in America, your child might be part of a Little League team that boasts regular after school practices and games with coaches in proper parks, these children were playing on their own, in the dirt. Every so often, the ball would get hit onto the tracks, and a child would scramble onto the traps, pawing through the litter to find his ball. Meanwhile, I would stand at the window, hoping that the child would find the ball in plenty of time before another train came whizzing along.

And as I'm watching them play, I couldn't help wondering, why aren't these children in school? But, then again, I already knew the answer, didn't I?

This is the life of India's poor. Children who lack the opportunity to go to school playing cricket dangerously close to the railroad tracks.

And I'll tell you the truth. When I see these children, and others like them, I get angry. These are children that the world has failed. No child should be forced to beg for food. No child should have to sleep on the street inches away from crazy drivers . And no child should lack the opportunity to go to school. And yet, there are so many children still in this world who are lacking such basic needs.

So it frustrates me when middle-class Americans claim that they're not affluent. That they might own a home, that they have an education, that they've been to college, even, but that they're not affluent.

Because affluence is a relative term. And yes, if you're only comparing yourself to other Americans, you might be right.

But this is an increasingly global world. And we're not going to get anywhere if we only compare ourselves to the lucky denizens of a smattering of first world countries.

Instead, we must open our eyes to the way a majority of the world lives. We must look at these children of India living in the slums by the railroad tracks, not as an exotic species in a National Geographic magazine, but as our children. As our community.

Being in India, I am always reminded of how much I have. I might have only made the median income in California, but I am so much wealthier than my paper assets. I have a first class education, health care, independence, and countless opportunities. I was raised to believe that I could accomplish whatever I set out to achieve. If that's not affluence, I don't know what is.

It is beyond time for us to extend that dream to every child in every corner of the world. The child playing cricket is just as deserving of education and opportunity as a child growing up in Fremont, California or Pleasantville, New York.

We must fight to give all children something to reach for.

And that starts with recognizing what we have. What we were given.


*Get your posts in for the APLS Carnival by September 10th to be included in this month's carnival.


Green Bean said...

Thank you for bringing those children into our view. So often, it is easy to forget what we cannot see. Not right but easy.

Crunchy Chicken said...

What makes it easier to forget is the emotional distress created by acknowledging that this kind of poverty even exists. For most people, avoidance is a whole lot more comfortable than addressing the gulf, and guilt, associated with poverty of this level.

And, one need not look as far as India. This kind of poverty exists in the U.S. in some areas of the Appalachians. But it's easier to make fun of them rather than do something about it. Oh, the humanity of it all - "it's okay just as long as it's them and not me."

Joyce said...

"they're all our children"- yes, and we would never let our kids, or our nieces and nephews or grandchildren, live like this.

Boy, it's nice to have you blogging again, Arduous.

EcoBurban said...

Oh, it makes my heart hurt to think of someone's son or daughter living that way. The agony of a parent unable to care for the basic needs of their children must be unbearable.

After reading this, I look around at my safe, healthy, protected and educated children and feel incredibly wealthy.

Perfect post, Arduous.

ScienceMama said...

Beautiful post, Roo.

Anonymous said...

In my Green Sangha group this afternoon, someone recounted a story of watching a child beg for water right across from the Taj Mahal and how that image has stayed with her forever. But also how the longer she lived in India, the more she felt she had to steel herself from others' pain because it was all just too much.

What can we do? How can we allow our hearts to remain open in the midst of so much suffering? And how can we encourage others to open their eyes and look? It's just so easy to hide.

Mama said...

My mother in law went to India, and was forever changed. When we view the plight of others, it changes us. I live in the Appalachians, and Crunchy Chicken is right. We call them the clay eaters. Because literally, that's all they have to eat. The tragedy is though, that their land has been raped of coal, that has made the men who took it billionares. It just left them poor and cancer ridden, without proper homes. We need to talk about this more, Thanks for your post!