Nothing is free in life. This life lesson is no exception.
I’m an easy mark. I know it. The world knows it. Play the sympathy card and I will fall for it. If you’re a poor little girl and say the money will be used for going to school, I will believe it. If you ask me to buy you food rather than just ask for money, I will give in.
Some may call this gullibility or too kind of a heart. I’ve had friends step in and regulate situations so I don’t blow my money being taken advantaged. I don’t really see this as a character flaw, though. When you’re in a third world country and someone takes advantage of you, your initial response is naturally anger.
What I think is the key to being human and growing as a person is taking a step back and looking at the situation from a humanist point of view. I lost $10 USD. I can survive that. Now imagine that mother who had to give up all of her pride and self-worth in order to con me into buying her baby formula.
What is her situation? Obviously, being a privileged white male from a first world country, I will never be able to fathom that. I will most likely (and hopefully) never experience what she is going thru just in order to make sure her child survives. Even though she is taking advantage of the kindness of strangers, she is still fighting the good fight. She is dedicating herself to her child’s survival.
My friend Keiko and I posing with some students from a floating village in Cambodia.
We are all dealt our own hands in life. Some are better than others. Mine is better than I deserve. I am thankful for that. It’s all just a genetic lottery. The important thing is realizing this and accepting that the $10 you lose is one less hungry child in the world. At least for a week. But hey, you made a difference in the life of a child and their mother for an entire week. 1 hour of work for 1 week of a child’s life. That’s both the most uplifting and the most disheartening thought all at once.
One final thought: we have gotten to the point where we really see people in dollars and cents. Our fellow human beings. This is the true problem. We love getting cheap clothes from Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam but we never stop to think of the true cost. We are taught to rationalize this as them being the other, being different than us.
The truth is that they are the same as us. They have families they are trying to support. Trying to feed… And not always succeeding at that. We need to realize that life is not a zero-sum game. It’s not us against them. We are in this together and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we can reevaluate the systems that have created the incredible inequality that affects us all.