Tag Archives: Africa

ungrateful and unaware

And what would you . . . ?

What would you do if a child from a privileged home couldn’t tell you what they were thankful for?

Not a single thing?

Yesterday on facebook, while browsing my news feed, I came across this photo and quote from Humans of New York. Humans of New York is a popular photoblog created by a man named Brandon Stanton. The site features portraits and interviews of individuals in New York — and around the world. While some have criticized HONY, saying many of Stanton’s interviews must be staged, most viewers love the site. I myself like HONY because, to me, Brandon has done exactly what I’ve been trying to do all along: Show that people are people.

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“I’m trying to raise my daughter with the same values that I learned in Jamaica, but it can be hard to instill gratitude and appreciation when we are surrounded by such abundance. When I was growing up in Jamaica, every time I wanted something, my grandmother made me go through the same list of questions: ‘Why do you want it?’ ‘How much will it cost?’ ‘Is it going to make your life better?’ There wasn’t enough money for things we didn’t need, so we were always forced to ask those questions — even for simple things like a new pair of shoes. The necessity of that ritual really helped create a deep appreciation for the things we had.”

“It can be hard to instill gratitude and appreciation when we are surrounded by such abundance.”

This quote struck me in particular because of a conversation I had with some of my students this past week. I had asked my kids (most of whom come from affluent white, Indian, and Asian homes in the Silicon Valley), now that Halloween was over, what holiday came next? The answer, of course, was “Thanksgiving,” but I was disappointed to discover that very few kids understood what that really meant.

“So what is Thanksgiving about?” I asked.

“Food!” said some.

“Turkey!” said others.

“Time off from school!” cried many.

One student, trying to dig deeper, said, “It’s about the Pilgrims and the Indians. They were coming up against a hard winter, and . . . Er, I don’t really remember the story. I just know it had to do with the Pilgrims.”

NO ONE said anything about thankfulness.

My disappointment was amplified, however, when I asked the students to think of ten things they were thankful for — and why.

“Umm . . .” Most had to pause before answering. Prompting didn’t help. And then, finally:

“My Wii.”

“My computer.”

“D.S.”

“Minecraft.”

“My new iPhone 6.”

“My new car.”

Very few said anything about anything other than their material possessions. When I asked them about how they thought their lived compared to the lives of kids in other countries — say, Africa — their responses were unenthusiastic at best.

“What about your bed at night? Do you sleep in a nice, soft bed?”

“Yes!”

“Do you think kids in Africa all sleep in nice soft beds?

“I guess not.”

“What about electricity? Do all kids in Africa have electricity?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Uhh . . . No?”

“That’s right, they don’t. Can you imagine what your life would your life be like if you didn’t have electricity?”

“That’d be awful!” with no real emotional connection. (Life without electricity? Was there even such a thing?)

And so on, and so forth.

And my heart hurt when the day was done. And I wondered what my students would think if they saw this * **interview with this little boy in India? And I wondered what we as a nation are teaching our children?

..

*Thank you, Allwin, for sharing!!

**See insightful comments from Francis and Bhuwanchand below about guilt, giving, and charity starting at home.

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the most important thing

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Image by GMB Akash

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I’m talking to people tonight, only I can’t zone in. I’m listening, mostly — as they talk about addiction, alcoholism, denial, self-image, and self-harm. They roll their heavily made-up eyes as they puff on cigarettes and share that their 18-year-old sisters just announced that they’re pregnant and are “super excited” about it. “What do they know about being a mom?” they complain. Their own moms are addicted to heroin, and “Dad ran off with his secretary,” not to mention their 19-year-old boyfriends were killed in car accidents about two months ago. “His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He’d just graduated from AA . . .”

Some of them are old enough to be adults — they are adults — but they’re shoplifting like it’s 1999, and they too would rather drink than work on their recoveries. Never mind that they’ve been hospitalized because of their addictions. They are invincible, and, somehow, it’s everyone — and everything — else’s fault. “I have a personality disorder,” they say, or, “I don’t know. I just don’t know . . .” And they shrug their skeletal shoulders and cast bleary eyes to the floor and sigh.

And I cry a little inside as I look around the room at their faces, taking notes. They are all of them beautiful — each in their own way — but they are sick and cannot see what I see . . . Continue reading

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the kindness . . . quota?

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”
John Lennon

“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.”
Mark Twain

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motherteresahelpingI’m listening to the radio on my drive home tonight and a prerecorded host message comes on between songs. “Here at Radio 94.7, we think Sacramento is pretty awesome. But what if every person in Sacramento did just one random act of kindness per month? How awesome Sacramento would be then? If everyone did that, Sacramento would be, like, the most awesome city in the whole country!” (Or something to that effect.)

And I was like . . .

Well, okay. First things first: Random acts of kindness equal good, so — yes, intentions are good — and effort does count, so — “Yay, 94.7.”

But then I was like . . .

“Per month?!” Whoa, people. Let’s not aim too high here . . . Continue reading

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on and on you go (take two)

Please don’t hate me! I was not content with my first version of this poem. Something about the third stanza (and a few other things) just didn’t fit. So I revised it, and here it is. Most of you know by now: This poem is dedicated to “wind.”

dress3From here to there and everywhere,
on and on you go.
I hear you there, or is it there?
Your face, you’ll never show.

O’er sea and over mountain,
continent and plain,
from Asia to the Balkan:
the world is your domain.

At times I’ve seen you angry,
you howl and wreak havoc.
It’s then I shiver meekly,
and stand in awe, dumbstruck.

But when you’re sweet, you’re lovely;
you caress my soul.
Your whispers soft and balmy,
you can take me whole.

And though I cannot touch you,
on wings you fly me high,
to places where I knew you,
under another sky.

Which version do you prefer?

Image: Pinterest

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on and on you go

dress3From here to there and everywhere,
on and on you go.
I hear you there, or is it there?
Your face, you’ll never show.

O’er sea and over mountain,
continent and plain,
in Africa and Asia . . .
The world is your domain.

Sometimes you get angry,
you howl and growl a lot.
You know it is quite silly—
I’ll not move from my spot.

But when you’re sweet, you’re lovely;
you caress my soul.
Your fingers full upon me,
you can take me whole.

And though I cannot touch you,
on wings you fly me high,
to places where I knew you,
under another sky.

Tip: Read aloud. ;)

Image: Pinterest

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no man is an island

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“Heyyyy! I thought that was you!”

I didn’t recognize the man who had appeared out of nowhere beside our table.

“How’s that arm?” He touched my shoulder. “Your dad was so worried about you—and not just about your arm, about your life! How long ago was that, anyway? . . . And how ’bout Hong Kong? Your dad told me you were over there. What were you doing there? Bet ol’ Placerville feels small now! I’ve never been to Asia. Born and raised in SoCal; moved up here and never left. Did a rotation in Dublin once, though. One of the best times of my life. What ya doin’ in ol’ Placerville?”

I wondered, briefly, how the man breathed. His lips hardly seemed to keep up with his mouth. Continue reading

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the way to happy

What I really want is to go back to bed. To crawl back under the covers and hide there. Or else wake up and find it’s no longer humid and that there aren’t gnats all over my floor. And that that bright red spot on my face has faded away.

That’s what I want.

But life isn’t about getting what you want. Some people think it’s about what makes you happy, but I’m not sure it’s about that, either. Sure, it’s good to be happy, but at what cost? The long, warm shower I took this morning might well have emptied the reservoirs of malnourished children living in Africa. Maybe it would have been better to have just splashed my face with water and run out the door?

And what is happiness? Is happiness living in comfort and having everything you need? Or is it helping others get what they need? Is it getting or giving? Is it from within, or from without?

Honestly, I think it’s both. The best Christmas present I ever received was the feeling I got from giving gifts away. This life can’t be all about me, or all about happiness. This life is about so much more: it’s about loving others, and learning to love yourself.

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