Continuing in our series based on the themes in Living More with Less, today we’ll focus on Life Standard #2: Learn from the World Community.
I’ve written often about how traveling to developing countries has affected my worldview; but is it necessary to travel in order to learn similar lessons?
I don’t think so. Sometimes it has been even more powerful to talk with people who have come to the U.S. from another country. They help us see our own privilege more clearly. When talking with one man from Nigeria, I asked him how he liked the U.S.
“There are too many choices,” he said. “For example, when I go to a restaurant, they ask if I would like coffee, tea, water, Pepsi products, or alcoholic beverages. If I say tea, they ask if I’d like herbal or sweetened, and proceed to list all of the options. After I’m tired from thinking about that decision, they ask about what dressing I’d like on my salad. Finally I say, ‘Just give me my salad naked, I don’t know what dressing I want!’”
Another time, I was eating dinner in a restaurant with some community developers from across the globe. The Indonesian ordered a steak dinner, and although he struggled, he managed to eat it all. “I ate a whole North American portion!” he said. Apparently he had been trying all week to eat a whole dinner served in a North American restaurant.
If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to visit with a visitor or recent immigrant to hear how they think the U.S. compares with their country. The differences go beyond food; once, when traveling, I was asked if it is true that North Americans rent apartments for their extra belongings. It took me a few minutes to realize that the person was referring to rental storage units. I told him that yes, it is true, but not for everybody.
Additionally, if you do not know anyone living in poverty here in the U.S., it is a rich experience not to be missed. I don’t mean volunteer in a soup kitchen or doing something where you never meet or build a relationship with those you want to help; I mean developing a relationship and friendship beyond the charity.
You might be wondering why I am spending so much time on these Life Standards and don’t get down to giving suggestions for living simply. Have patience! In our culture we have been brainwashed by advertising into thinking we are what we own, that we need what we want. Only by gaining a different perspective can we begin to approach living simply in a way that will help us make real change.
What have you been taking for granted this Christmas?