Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. ~Mark Twain
This quote was my "daily inspiration" for today from the Anne of Green Gables site. I just think it says so well how important travel is. I know that my worldview began to expand only after I moved from Texas (where I had lived my whole 31 years prior) to the Northeast. It was astounding how two areas in the same country could be so different. The people were different, the housing was different, what "mattered" was different. Some of it, I'm sure, was from being exposed to small town life, but a good deal of it was simply a difference in region. My worldview was further expanded by traveling to my husband's home country of Algeria, which I believe is currently classified as a developing nation. That trip really brought home for me how much Westerners take for granted their ready access to such basid items as food, water, housing and services. It was also startling to see the profound difference between the way the "have's" live vs. the "have not's". My husband's family would be considered solidly middle-class here in the US (all hold a minimum of the equivalent of a bachelor's from university) yet they are often without water, have no air-conditioning or central heat. By US measures their housing would most likely be considered sub-standard. I think the trite line is to say "we are so blessed." To me that is condescending and doesn't take into account the way the vast majority of the people in the world live. Are we really blessed or are we stupid for destroying the beautiful natural resources we are blessed to have? All in the name of bigger houses and more look-alike strip malls. Now, lest anyone think I'm holier than though...we live in a very typical vinyl village, suburban neighborhood built on former farm fields in a house that in no way addresses it's environment and is about 800sf bigger than our family could comfortably live in. Seeing my sisters-in-law and how hard they work (no dishwashers, only one with a washing machine, no clothes dryers, and houses of no more than 1000sf regardless of the number of people living there) really made me think about why we need so much space. Our family of four in 2000sf...one of his brother's family of 5 including 4 adults and an infant in about 900sf...another brother and his wife and child in less than 500sf. The only answer I can come up with is that we have way more stuff to store, and you know what we don't use 80% of it!! For me that trip one year ago was the impetus for me to really start looking at the way I was living, and what I thought of as acceptable. Why do I think it is o.k. to have three sets of pots and pans? Why do I think it is o.k. to have a house with two rooms we never use? Why do I need a full basement to store my "off-season" decorations? Why do my kids need a dedicated playspace...why do they need that many toys anyway? Why do we need to spend $20.00 on throw-away tchochkes for a child's birthday party? I'd like to say that I've been able to completely buck the system and have stopped buying all those enticements. But, I'd be lying. I do stop and ask myself more frequently why?? is this a want or a need? why do you want it? do you already have something that will work? I'm doing the same thing as I clean out closets and drawers. Why? Why am I keeping this? Could someone else benefit from it? Cleaning out really keeps me honest at the store. I'll pick something up and remember that cleaning out I just did and how many items I put in the Goodwill box that I had NEVER used! I'm getting better, but I'm not where I want to be yet. Most of the blogs linked on the right in the first section are my inspiration as I continue on my journey. I really don't think there is a final destination, we just keep working to improve step-by-step.
My final thoughts...I don't want anyone to think that I view the US as evil and Algeria (or countries like it) as "the answer". There simply is no black and white on this issue. It scares me to see the vast difference between the monied and the rest of the people in Algeria. It is truly frightening how many young men are unemployed. Seeing that made me more keenly aware of how that same dynamic plays out here, in the land of plenty. And the pollution, ACK! The primary difference there is that they have very strong familial units, which more and more in Western cultures is not the case. Plus all citizens have access to free healthcare and education (not a panacea, by the way). I'm not naive enough to believe in equitable income distribution or that in distributing it equitably all the world's ills would be solved. I guess, honestly, the only thing I do believe is that those of us with "more" have an obligation to give, and that that giving should start in our own communities. Give to your local food pantry. Donate to literacy programs. Serve on the PTO. Volunteer for the park clean up. Don't hoard things that can do someone else some good--clothes your kids have outgrown, books, tools, furniture etc.--give them away. Buy one less Christmas gift for your kids and one more for the Salvation Army's Giving Tree. Volunteer at a local nursing home. And most importantly do all of this as a family so your kids will see beyond their "little corner of the earth."