Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Abundance and Lack

There's a link to a collection of pictures that I've seen tumbling around on Facebook lately - kids and their bedrooms from around the world.  It's a really fascinating peek into different cultures and every picture tells a silent story about the value those cultures place on possessions, comfort, children and their place in the family, wealth, and individualism.

I was a little disturbed by the commentary (not provided by the photographer), that said (my paraphrase) those of us who had more should try to provide the same opportunities that we had to children who are being raised without.

Why would I find that disturbing?

I'm disturbed by the cultural arrogance of assuming that children who aren't raised with material abundance are somehow lacking something.
And I get it, how someone from our culture would think that - and would think they're being philanthropic, even, for their desire to see others raised in similar circumstances.  But we forget that every person looks at life through their own cultural goggles.  And our culture worships the concept of more - we scorn the idea of enough.

In our culture of material abundance, where children are showered with more toys and lessons and more clothes than necessary, we look with pity and fear at a childhood of scarcity and family-supporting labour.  We pity children who share bedrooms and sleeping space with siblings and parents.  We carry around the gluttonous idea that children should be given everything, the more everything the better.  But there are cultures (certainly no less valid, though strange to western understanding) where the goal is not personal abundance.  Children are raised to contribute early to the family's well-being, and are seen as producers, not (solely) consumers, long before they reach adulthood. I think that must be a much healthier state of soul than being raised on excess.

I'm not disagreeing with the idea of helping those in need - I love and celebrate generosity!  But sometimes I think we have it backwards ... that we're the ones in need.  We need to grow up as contributors - not greedy recipients.  We need to grow up knowing the relationship between labour and earnings.  We need to know the joy of being needed and useful and the value of working as part of a family.

We're a lot poorer than we think - no matter how comfortable our bedrooms, or how filled with stuff they are - if we measure the value of a childhood by the number of toys our children have.

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