coming home

September 7th, 2005

Today was my first day back to work after spending a week in Thailand. Usually the morning traffic drives me crazy, and by the time I get to work, I’m hopelessly annoyed.

But today as I sat at the same light for 10 minutes, I thought, why do I complain about traffic? I should be grateful that I can afford a car to drive and that I have a good job to drive to.

If I had to describe Thailand in only one word, it would be “unreal.” If I could describe the trip in a two-word phrase, it would probably be “eye-opening.” I’ve traveled to other countries, I’ve seen extreme poverty, I’ve been amazed at the differences I saw, but this trip was somehow vastly different than anything else. It’s like a different world over there.

People frequently talk about how blessed and fortunate we are as Americans, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone mention how spoiled and selfish we are. We complain about gas prices rising, but it doesn’t really affect most of us in incredibly significant ways. We can still afford the gas to get to our jobs and the grocery store; we even manage to drive to the mall to buy nice things that we don’t really need. We just pay more for gas, and we complain about what it costs. Most people in Thailand can’t even afford a car. There are more motorcycles than cars, some driven by mothers holding two children and almost nobody wearing helmets. People ride in the backs of trucks, or in un-air-conditioned buses, or they walk to wherever they need to go. We refuse to give up our SUVs, to take public transportation, to walk more than absolutely necessary to get from the parking lot to wherever we need to be. We’re spoiled and rich, but we don’t usually see it that way. There’s always someone richer and more spoiled, and that’s not us.

We feel that we’re entitled to things that other people don’t even dream about. In Thailand, many of the hotels have sensors on the room key ring that have to be put in a holder in order for the lights and A/C to work; this saves electricity and therefore money. One of the people we were with found that if he took the key off, he could leave the sensor in the room while he was away, because “if I’m going to be paying for a room, I want it to be cool when I get back to it.” Never mind that the room was already cheap for him, or that the people running the place probably could barely afford to pay their living costs, or that the island could barely sustain all the tourists that visit it. He’s entitled to as much air conditioning as he wants; it’s his right. Lots of people don’t even have air conditioning, but that’s ok; they’re used to the heat; they don’t really need it like we do. Other people don’t need big cars; we need huge vehicles to transport 3 or 4 people at a time.

We went to a church that was an old converted building that had no air conditioning and only had plastic chairs to sit on. Most of our churches in America are pretty nice, and we crank up the AC until the girls are all wearing sweaters inside while it’s 100 degrees outside, because we’re entitled to as much coolness as we want. Never mind that all the money spent on the AC could be used to help people who can’t even afford to eat. We want to be comfortable. We can’t imagine not being comfortable.

Where did we get this mentality? Is it just a lack of awareness? It can’t be that, because most of us have seen news and magazines and downtown, and even other countries. Why does this country use most of the world’s oil and energy? What gives us this right? Although we never say it, our actions suggest that we think we deserve most than the rest of the world. Why?

We have so much. Most of us realize we have a lot, and we’re thankful, but I don’t think we stop and think about how spoiled we really are. Growing up, my family never seemed to have much money. My dad was a minister and my mom didn’t work until we were older, and even then we never had as much as most of my friends. We had hard times and my parents had to make sacrifices, but when I look back, I realize that I always had food to eat and clothes to wear. I never really had to worry about losing my house. My sisters and I frequently felt that we were poor, but by the world’s standards, we were rich.

I worry about money, but I’ve never been unable to pay my bills. We just spent nearly $4000 on a vacation to Thailand. Everything over there is so cheap for us, but the people who live there have so little. I feel that I should help people more, but I have a hard time giving up things that I want. I complain about traffic, gas prices, my water bill, and an endless list of things that don’t really decrease my standard of living. I want to use my money to travel and have a nifty house, and I want to make sure I have enough money to retire when I’m older: luxuries most people will never have.

I’m selfish, and I’m spoiled, and until recently I didn’t realize how much of either of these I was. It’s hard to admit, and even harder to change. So where do I go from here?

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