Homesick in a Strange and Privileged Land

I was holding back tears and trying to swallow intense emotions that were bubbling to the surface. The room was dimly lit and the stadium-style seats were the most comfortable chairs I had felt in more than six months. I looked at the cup of coffee in my hand and, closing my eyes, I slowly touched it to my face and felt the warmth of its contents.

Only 24 hours earlier I had been in another country, a place on the opposite side of the world so foreign and so different that it was easy to forget that I didn't just arrive from another planet. Obvious differences stood out, but it was the subtle differences that really made the biggest impact.

The first thing I noticed was the faster pace of life. It's not so much the physical speed of things, but pace at which you're expected to respond to and process information. Simple things like paying for something at the register or answering the telephone felt hurried or rushed. Even conversations seemed needlessly accelerated. It feels as though you're expected to think, act, and operate like a machine.

Everything also feels so geometrically perfect and picturesque. The paint on every house is neat and artistic; the doors are perfectly square; the windows, sometimes bigger than me, are made of perfectly clear glass.

The cars are fancy and they all seem to be well kept. Even really old cars and trucks look relatively new. Buses, trains, subways, and taxis. They all look like they were designed to last a thousand years.

Roads are flat and well maintained. Sidewalks can be found almost everywhere. Some roads even have separately marked lanes for bicycles!

All the people seem to be wearing new clothes. Even their bags and purses look like they just came off the shelf. Many people seem dressed well enough to appear in a movie. In fact, if you spend time watching people in a public area, you might actually begin to think that they really are acting out a movie!

Every line, wall, pillar, and post that should be straight is straight. Every circle that should be circle is circle. Every chair, table, light fixture, and floor is perfectly manufactured. There are no cutting corners, no makeshift replacements, no cheap materials.

Things are, in fact, so perfectly orchestrated and manufactured that everyone here seems to have run out of things to make perfect. They've now turned their attention towards nature itself.

They uproot trees and move them around, create their own visually appealing dirt and call it "mulch", cut squares and circles into their concrete creations to design miniature pieces of nature to decorate the landscape and make their concrete jungles a little more appealing.

They don't even stop with trees and flowers. They've begun modifying the fruits and vegetables; not even the animals are spared!

These people, with so much technology, knowledge, abundance, and resources, seem bored out of their minds. They start conversations about meaningless things and quarrel over issues of no significance. Their entire life seems to be full of searching for things to keep them mentally and physically occupied.

They can be seen voluntarily doing mundane things like mowing their grass, cleaning their cars, buying things they don't need, and starting arguments just for the sake of arguing. When they run out of ideas for pointless discussions, or when they just get bored of themselves, they watch television to get ideas for more pointless things to gossip about.

It's incredibly sad to see so much potential going to waste, to see so many people with so much power sit idly and twiddle their thumbs. Even stranger, it seems like many of them can sense that something doesn't feel quite right.

It seems like they sense a lack of authenticity; a feeling that they might be living in a house of cards that could come tumbling down at any moment; a feeling that their life might be missing purpose and meaning.

The ironic thing is, I've lived nearly my entire life feeling exactly the same way, going through the same ups and downs, solving and making problems simply because they were there to be made or solved.

Insulated from real hardship, I voluntarily created hardship to challenge myself. I put myself deeper and deeper into debt, bought things I didn't need, and pushed myself to work harder and harder until I burned out and needed to take a vacation.

I lived in a bubble where everything I needed was provided for me so long as I chose to conform to the rules and keep the mask of ignorance over my face.

When my thirst for reality finally got strong enough -- when my burning curiosity finally overcame the fear of change and the fear of the unknown -- I broke free. I stepped outside of that bubble. I took a walk on the wild side, into the great unknown, where I might get mugged, shot, kidnapped, or catch a deadly disease and die a horrible death.

And you know what happen? I survived. I lived. I got a taste of reality.

I got to see firsthand the way the majority of the rest of the world actually lives.

Life, while perhaps more chaotic and risky, felt more authentic and peaceful. Time seemed to slow down to a pace that felt more human. The people, while less restricted by laws and social stigmas, felt more genuine and neighborly. The lack of education and easy access to comfort didn't make them more primitive, it made them more motivated to do things that mattered.

Happiness wasn't something to look forward to on the weekend, but rather something to share between two people over tea. There were fewer fake smiles, more genuine handshakes, and a general feeling of enjoying life and living in the moment.

As I swallowed that lump in my throat and rapidly blinked my eyes to dry the oncoming tears, I realized that I was feeling an extreme sense of good fortune. I was feeling so grateful for everything I had been given in life that it brought tears to my eyes.

Sitting in the dark comfort of the movie theater with my parents, waiting for the movie to start, I couldn't help but think about the thousands of scrawny kids I saw living on the streets. What was I doing? While I was holding that warm drink in my hands, hundreds of thousands of kids were going to bed on a cold dirt floors.

Why should 17,000 children die every day from things that we've already found a way to prevent? Why should there be people worrying about where they will find their next meal so they can stay alive while others are busy finding ways to entertain themselves and create strawberry flavored water?

Shouldn't we be setting an example for the rest of the world to follow? As a privileged people with access to such an abundance of resources and information, shouldn't we be doing more to balance the inequality that exists?

I'm sick of sitting around. I'm sick of reading statistics. I'm sick of seeing people waste away their life arguing over things of absolutely no significance. I'm sick of hearing people complain about going to work on Monday and then getting excited about drinking and partying on Friday.

All of us are privileged. The very fact that we can talk about these things -- that we can write, read, and discuss the things that we do -- makes us privileged.

Every time I hear a conversation or see someone doing something not directly related to survival, I'm reminded of how privileged I am. Those little daily events have become constant reminders that are fueling the growing fire inside me.

It's one thing to recognize how much abundance surrounds us, but it's something else entirely to recognize how fortunate we really are.

The meaning of life isn't defined by anyone. It's what you make of it. If you make your life a meaningless string of complaints and selfish pursuits, you'll only have yourself to blame when life feels empty.

Your privileges and good fortunes give you immense power. How you choose to use those privileges and that power is entirely up to you. What life means is up to you. Make life mean something. Start now.

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  1. Hey Raam, that’s a precious feeling you have there! Hold tight onto it!

    This post reminds me of returning to Finland fifteen years ago. I had lived in Africa since I was 6 (except visiting Finland during most summers) because of my parents’ work. I was young (just about to turn 15), so it was in some ways different, but that feeling of two completely different worlds that you mention was really strong…

    Now, after all these years, I still find it hard to fit the two worlds in the same picture. It’s like when you are in Africa, you can’t even imagine what it’s like to live in a privileged place like the US or — in my case — Finland. And the worse part, when you come back, it won’t take long until you lose touch to that other world in turn. It’s just so different…

    But at the same time, I believe it’s all right for you to enjoy some of the benefits in the western world as well! The privileges are no good if (like so many people) we don’t realize to enjoy them for what they are — luxury!

    • Hey Jarkko,

      Thank you for sharing your story! I’m curious, how long it took before you began to lose touch with that other world? I’ve only been back a little more than a week and for me, that feeling seems to get stronger as the days go by — every day feels like one more day I didn’t do more to help.

      As for enjoying the benefits of the Western world, I would agree that letting things go to waste doesn’t make sense, but I’d also venture to say that we should be enjoying these benefits responsibly. What does that mean exactly? I wish I had a simple answer, but I think the truth is that it isn’t simple. I think it means sacrificing wasteful comforts and doing more with what we have.

      Do you have any ideas for how we can make better use of what’s around us?

      Oh and about the visioning two worlds in one picture: I think it’s a lot easier for those in the US (at least those who spent some time outside the US) to envision the two worlds in the same picture. It’s a lot more difficult for the poor farmer in Africa to envision what life would be like in “one equal world”. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we, as privileged people, bare the responsibility. After all, if you cannot envision it, you cannot create it!

      • Raam, this is why I love to comment on your blog. You seriously think about these things, and you take time to think give a thoughtful response to every comment!

        I did visit Senegal a couple of times afterwards (last visit was Christmas 1999 – New Year 2000) but it’s been so long that I can’t quite get back the feeling as I experienced it at the time. As far as I remember, it started to happen quite fast. If you let the speed of things in the western world get a hold of you, it widens the gap really fast.

        I love it how you see the urgency that “every day feels like one more day I didn’t do more to help.” We have so many opportunities to create change, yet we spend our time tinkering and trying to figure out the “best way.” Time flies so quick… and we end up doing nothing?

        With the opportunities and great benefits we enjoy comes great responsibility. Sure, the solution won’t be to bring everyone to our level of consumption. But to be fair, that should never be used as an excuse to not help. It should instead be a call for us to lower our own consumption and giving up something in order to make sure others have enough too. A world filled with minimalists could be a great goal πŸ˜‰

        I like Bono’s way of thinking where helping the poor is not about charity but justice: We need to work hard to make sure those in the poorer parts of the world are treated right and given a chance to change the world they live in.

        Entrepreneurship in the third world could be a huge opportunity. Education is another. I wonder if there could be something there that we could help in?

        • Thank you for continuing the discussion, Jarkko! Great thoughts!

          I really think education is the key area where we might be able to help. I’m thinking along the lines of using technology to connect people (those who need education to those who have the knowledge to educate). Not just people in developing worlds, but everywhere. And not just using technology, but also in person.

          I think there’s a lot we can all do to empower ourselves, a lot we can do to improve our capacity to educate and convey ideas to those around us. In addition to blogging, I feel like I could motivate a lot of people if I was able to share my stories and ideas in a public speaking venue. But I’m terrible at public speaking and I’m an introvert who likes staying quiet. But that shouldn’t be an excuse not to work towards changing that, so I’m going to join my local Toastmasters and start working on public speaking!

          If we identify things about ourselves that we can improve, things that when improved will increase our potential to help others, then we can all become leaders in this movement to a better world. That doesn’t mean that we should all become public-speaking aficionados, but I think it means we should never give up improving ourselves and looking for ways that we can become more capable of helping. For some people, that might mean learning how to blog and use Twitter. For others it might be public-speaking.
          I think this is what it means to “help ourselves to help the world”.

          By improving ourselves with an end goal of being more helpful to others, we automatically set an example for others to follow. But making the decision to improve ourselves is the easy part (after all, it benefits us). The hard part, I think, is putting that potential into action and using it to help others.

  2. Another beautifully written study in contrasts and kick in the butt too! I’m deeply touched by your humanity and your vision.

    At the same time, I wonder how do we begin to unravel it all? I’m reading Naked in Eden, which is about living, awakening, and healing in the rainforest of Australia. Another journey into simply being. If only we all had the courage to simple be!

    • Thank you, Sandra!

      I’m wondering how we unravel it all too! I’m beginning to feel that the solution isn’t going to be easy. I think it’s going to require hard work, vision, and lots of passion.

      I love your point about simply “being”. When we recognize that we have everything that we need, we can begin to see how everything else is extra and we become less attached to things and more willing to give.

    • I love the simplicity of your question, Sarath! While I was writing this post, I asked the exact same thing. What can we do? It’s one thing to talk about the problems and identify them, but it’s something else entirely to actually do something! I’m still racking my head for how I can help. If I had money to give away or donate, that might be one option, but I don’t even have that!

      Do you have any ideas? What do you think we could do?

  3. You’re asking the wrong person! I cant even solve my dilemmas, but when I find the answer to solving the world’s problem, I will make sure I email! Lol jk

  4. This is why I read your stuff, Raam. It knocks the wind out of you, but keeps you coming back for more.

    Whether it’s you, Sandra, Sarath, me or any of the other hundreds/thousands/millions(?) of people asking the same question, one thing is clear to me: We can’t let the fact that no silver bullet solution is readily apparent stop us from taking personal action ourselves first.

    You control you. I control me. In this way, we can take small but concrete steps to change ourselves: what we do, how we behave, what we believe, what is important to us, what we can learn and educate ourselves on, etc. When we then live this life fully and for all to see, we then become a light unto others, helping to illuminate their path so that they too can have that “a-ha” moment and begin to pay it forward.

    The realist in me then gets smacked with the fact that deep, substantial and lasting change is strongly challenged by the societal infrastructures we live in — capitalist, democratic, religious, etc. These are huge obstacles in our path that will only begin to change by getting involved at the ground level.

    We have to be engaged 110% in the change we want to see. We have to influence. We have to be on the ground getting our boots dirty and hands in the muck. There lies the opportunity for our individual talents to shine.

    If you are good at organizing, organize something; if you are good at teaching, teach others; if you are good at relationships and influence, get into local politics or fund raising; if you are good at building or fixing things, find a non-profit (or a neighbor) that needs that. The list goes on.

    But at the end of the day, we all know that seeing the majority of world’s population come up to Western standards of living is NOT the answer. It’s unsustainable. But it is likely unavoidable to some extent. This just puts the impetus on the Western world to start dialing back its lifestyle — whether voluntarily or by force (the likely scenario as crap hits the fan) — so the World Community can meet somewhere in the middle. But how do you do THAT? Especially in the face of more pressing things like keeping/finding a job, putting food on the table and a roof over your head and clothes on your kids’ backs… I think that might be a tougher problem to solve than improving the lives of non-Westerners.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment. I could go on for a while, but I’ll stop there. Long story short: Don’t wait for someone to figure out the “answer”. You know in your heart what to do. Just have the conviction to do it, stick with it and share it with as many people as you can.

    I’m happy to take the conversation off-line (skype?) with anyone who wants to. Be well.

    • Hi Raam,

      I enjoyed reading your experiences when you got back to the US and of course, you will be reflecting on what you have seen and lived through during your overseas travels.

      Bill has posed some excellent questions and statements, of which this really stood out to me: “But at the end of the day, we all know that seeing the majority of world’s population come up to Western standards of living is NOT the answer. It’s unsustainable. But it is likely unavoidable to some extent. This just puts the impetus on the Western world to start dialing back its lifestyle β€” whether voluntarily or by force (the likely scenario as crap hits the fan) β€” so the World Community can meet somewhere in the middle. But how do you do THAT?”

      There is no doubt that we are priviledged, but does it really behoove those of us to lower our own standards and passions because we won the lottery of living in the Western world? There will always be people who have more in life and those who don’t. People who have more intellect than others. Who are fitter than others. Who are more socialable than others. Who are happier than others. Those who are in perfect health while others are fighting for their life. There are tons of inequalities in life. Life is unfair. Given that, I think you can only handle what you can handle in life and make changes that have a greater impact than just your own life.

      • Hi Karen, thank you so much for the comment! πŸ™‚

        I would caution going too far with the attitude that “life is unfair” and there’s only so much we can do. I feel that what we can do is many, many times greater than what we actually think we can do. We always underestimate our power and potential. As an entire population, I’d say we underestimate it to a far greater extent than on an individual basis.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel that our level of comfort, our “winning the lottery”, places a certain responsibility on us. It’s like two people standing next to each other. One of them is holding a gun. The person holding the gun has more responsibility than the person without the gun. An average Joe could be holding the gun and a police officer could be standing next to him. The average Joe still has a greater responsibility. Even if it were a young child holding the gun with an adult standing next to them, the child would still have more responsibility. Even though two people may have difference circumstances, the one possessing greater power and potential automatically has a greater responsibility.

        I don’t think this means we need to lower our standards or abandon our passions (and I hope I didn’t come across as advocating that in the post, because I don’t!). In fact, I think our passions and our standards of living can enable us to do great work that has a positive impact on the world. We can, and should, make use of that great quality of life we’re so fortunate to have and we should use it to do things of greater importance than ourselves. But unless there is a greater purpose, unless we acknowledge the problems around us and resolve to make choices and decisions that will lead to better outcomes, all our great fortune will go to waste.

        I would say I’m 80% realist, but I also believe that we need to think grand — really grand — if we want to see big change (shoot for the stars if you want to land on the moon). That’s why I say we should aim for a world without poverty. We should believe that we can change inequalities even if the task seems impossible. Like you said, it all begins with taking care of what we’re capable of changing in our own lives. All we can really do is be the example for others to follow. And that’s enough, because all change begins with one individual believing wholeheartedly in a single idea, regardless of how much outside pressure is placed on them.

    • Bill, thank you so much for your thoughtful contribution! This is why I love blogging!

      You touched on so many important points that I could write whole blog post on them (and maybe I should…). The part that really hit me though was what you said about finding a way to meet the World Community at the middle in the face of things like keeping/finding a job, putting food on the table, etc. Those things are going to remain important to us no matter how much we want to help and give.

      Now that I’m back in the States I’m seeing that myself, both with my own needs and with my family. I see everyone around me working so hard… and for what? To pay the bills to feed themselves (and now me), to keep the roof over their head, etc. At the same time, I do see a lot of excess waste. I see a lot of things that people are working to maintain even though they’re never using them. Big yards that eat up more time and money being maintained than actually being used. Multiple cars that with sacrificing a little convenience could be reduced to one. And so on.

      So I think that responsibility and actually taking the initiative — being the leader — is so important. Everyone can follow, but everyone can also lead. When we lead, we become the instigators and change happens. Then that change spreads because other people love following leaders. The end goal should be that everyone is a self-contained leader who understands the challenges and voluntarily makes the necessary sacrifices and choices to make a positive difference. Like you said, every one of us has our talent — there’s something all of us do well. When we discover what that is, we can use that to make a difference. And since we’re good at it, we will end up enjoying the process.

    • hi Bill,
      you are right when you say that each should do their bit to help. i work in educating children, helping them to read and write. this i am able to do at a local missionary school. i started teaching because i felt that education is the only way to remove economic disparity among various sections of society. but sadly i find that there is not one magic wand. the parents of children i work with spend the entire day just keeping a roof over their heads and food in their tummies.
      they are not able to take advantage of simple government policies( as for example, the Delhi govt. has a scheme that give rs one lac to each girl child who competes class 10) due to lack of documentary proof such as birth certificates and residence proofs. this problem can only be solved when numerous people work at it from various angles.

      • Hi Varuni,

        I think that pure passion and dedication, on any level, do far greater good than misplaced and misguided efforts! I think education, especially education for children, is an incredible way to contribute, so thank you for everything you’re doing.

        I also hear your frustration with government policies. I’m beginning to think that we need to forget governments even exist and focus on mobilizing ourselves to make change happen. I see these governments and their broken policies as a huge distraction and vacuum for energy and human potential. We don’t need them if we can come together to make things happen. There has never been a better opportunity for that to happen than there is now. (Think about it, you’re in India, I’m in the USA and we’re discussing these topics… what part do our governments play in this? Nothing!)

        Of course it’s easier to say than do. It requires immense effort, passion, vision, and drive. But I think we’re ready. The time is right for the ball to start rolling in the right direction.

  5. Beautiful. It amazes me sometimes when I’m walking alone and I catch little glimpses of passing conversations in my home town. The things I mostly hear people talking about are gossip and money. This forces me to look inward at myself and what my conversations with people focus on. It’s a great way to keep myself humble and not let myself get sucked into the material, shallow life.

    • I find it amazing that I never caught on to those little “insignificant” conversations before going on my trip. I think it might have been because I had learned to tune out all useless gossip, but now that I can see why people are doing it and what effect it’s having, every single conversation has become a reminder.

      Like you, it really forces me to look inward and evaluate my own conversations. I’ve already caught myself holding my tongue when I know I’m about to start a conversation about something that will end with absolutely nothing valuable exchanged. I also feel like I’ve had a lot more meaningful conversations just in the first week of being back.

      Thank you for sharing, Christy!

  6. What a fantastic post Raam, you really hit the nail on the head of an issue people havent quite been able to put their finger on.

    Your post also reminds me of one of the books I am reading right now called My Country Is Called Earth (you can read it for free from ibooks). I hope you get to read it.

  7. Raam, After reading your post last night, I started re-reading “Ethics for the New Millennium” by the Dalai Lama, which I haven’t read for ten years when it was first released.

    It was interesting to see how his assessment of the world situation runs so parallel to yours! He draws the same contrasts between the developed and less developed worlds. He feels our problems all boil down to a lack of basic ethics and that what is needed is a spiritual revolution – not necessarily ascribing to a particular religion but a reawakening of basic spiritual values like love, compassion, forgiveness, and so on. This book is a blueprint for world transformation.

    It’s interesting as Thich Nhat Hanh’s recent book – The World We Have – also proposes a spiritual revolution to address the environmental crisis we face. Bill’s been reading it and I can’t wait to hear more about it from him.

    It’s clear to me something deep within needs to change for the world to change!

    • Hi Sandra!

      I definitely think it’s something deep within that needs to change, perhaps a different way of looking at the world and the purpose of life. Simply focusing on core values — focusing on the things that matter to everyone regardless of their circumstances, like love, compassion, and forgiveness — will lead everyone to realize how connected we all are and how easily we can all work towards reawakening that connection.

      I’ll definitely have to check out Ethics for the New Millennium — it sounds like a really interesting read! πŸ™‚

  8. Wow, you seriously left me speechless and with a MILLION thoughts running through my head.

    Being completely honest I haven’t even left on my RTW trip to visit any of these poorer countries, but thanks to doing research on them and reading blogs like yours they have already made me change so much. I am appreciating the little things that count and am trying to be grateful for the crappy job I have or the that I am able to afford school and attend it even though I hate it so much.

    Thanks for a great post and helps other reflect and put them in your shoes for a split second and it’s that split second that can make all the difference in the world!

    • Hey Jaime,

      I think you’re proof that travel isn’t a requirement for really changing our perspective! All it really takes is a desire to learn and understand. All the messages are out there in the blogosphere, we just need to listen and apply!

      Best of luck with planning your RTW trip! Drop me a message if there’s anything I might be able to help with. πŸ™‚

  9. Raam, every post of yours is so well-crafted and conveys such a powerful message.

    I have to agree with you on this passage:
    “I’m sick of sitting around. I’m sick of reading statistics. I’m sick of seeing people waste away their life arguing over things of absolutely no significance. I’m sick of hearing people complain about going to work on Monday and then getting excited about drinking and partying on Friday.”

    I’m sick of people who like to talk about all the world’s problems, pretending to be an intelligent savior of some kind by bashing Glenn Beck and his compatriots. That doesn’t accomplish anything. Zero. It takes incredibly compassionate and dedicated individuals getting outside of their personal lives to actively help their community. Lifestyle changes help, but the most important things are 1) spreading the message and 2) tangible, concrete community change.

    We all like to do #1, but #2 is that difficult one, due to its elusive nature, people are scared to tackle it.

    If we want to get anything done on a societal level, it starts with yourself, one person. The next step is to take it to the streets, into your local community. If you can’t change things at home, how will you change anything else?

    Thanks, Raam, for another thought-provoking article.

    • Thank you, Lynn!

      I can feel the frustration in your words coming right through the screen, and I can totally relate! I’ve been brainstorming to figure out what’s next for me and I really feel like I’m saying a lot of words but not doing anything tangible. And like you said, the tangible part is the hard part!

      I think at a very basic level, volunteering or contributing to the community is a great place to start and that’s exactly what I’m moving towards (volunteering).

  10. Hi Raam, I found I related to a lot of your post even though I’m not a digital nomad. I don’t feel in touch with mainstream American culture at all, even though I live in it. I don’t know if that means I should move somewhere else or not, time will tell.

    Personally I am trying not to use as many resources and to get rid of possessions and avoid getting more when possible. I have also tried to educate people that poor countries want the lifestyle that Westerners have, but there are not enough resources on the planet to do that. I fear competition for nonrenewable resources will get ugly unless rich countries can be convinced to voluntarily cut back.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I think my becoming a digital nomad just enabled me to see what was already there. The absurdity of a lot of things wasn’t nearly as obvious as it is now, but it was always there! I think it’s great that you don’t feel in touch with mainstream American culture — it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the “movie set” mentality and forget the challenges the rest of the world is facing. I know this from firsthand experience because every time I buy a cup of coffee — even now — I have to remind myself that this is a luxury and that I should be grateful for it!

      Thank you for the comment and for everything you do help educate people, Jennifer! πŸ™‚

  11. Raam,

    This post resonated strongly with me because I can relate to the feeling of homesickness your describing. I was originally born and raised in another country, a developing republic of China. While the details are different from Nepal, many circumstances related to survival you’ve described here are the same. My parents would teach me that every minute of my life would be a waste if you didn’t commit your time to getting an education and finding a good job. When I grew up in China, I understood exactly what that meant. The intense competition for resources and simply lack of social welfare made that value a very real and possibly the only way to be socially mobile. Then I moved to New York at 8 years old and experienced confusion. Other kids would make me feel isolated and abnormal because I didn’t wear the latest brand name clothing. Pursuing education made them even more motivated to call me a nerd or loser. All of these opinions and views not only upset me but confused me. To me, these were hard-wired options to getting out of poverty and living a good life. It wasn’t much later that I understood this idea of privilege and how much Americans didn’t value these things to the same degree as those living in a developing country does. Many of the marital problems, poverty issues, health-care issues and social problems can be solved by a change in mentality and a recognition of the privilege by Americans, however the idea of privilege doesn’t exist until you’ve experienced true hardship like you have been when traveling through Nepal. Can we ship all American’s to a developing nation for a month? I am sure some minds will change after that. πŸ™‚ Otherwise, I think its blogs like yours that will inspire other minds toward gratitude. However, this is difficult. Another poster here mentioned that you’ll gradually lose your connection to this mentality because the developing world and the developed worlds are so different, which is true. Even though I’ve been 15 years removed from my birth city in China, I still have memories because I grew up there until I was 8 but many specific living memories are fading. I also realized many of my goals as I’ve grown up here in America have been shaped by aspirations for privilege. Its sad to me this is happening, but I’ve internalized so much of being privileged as the way to be that procuring items or having goals that bring me more privilege feels second nature. And there I think lies the problem and a deliemma.

    • Hi Yang,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your viewpoint and experience reinforces everything I’ve been observing and feeling since I returned to the United States.

      The the other interesting thing is now you’ve recognized that you’re internalizing so much of the privileged status, and that many of the memories that had a huge influence on the way you see the world have begun to fade. It makes me wonder if one of the biggest factors in this situation is that several generations have lived with such abundance that we’ve totally forgotten what life without it could even be like.

      If you add the media industry into the mix — corporations whose sole goal is to keep you feeling that the abundance is an absolute necessity — then you’ve got the recipe for an incredibly confused and misguided population who simply don’t know any better. Before I went on my six month trip, there simply wasn’t any other reality for me to compare life in the United States with. Videos, news articles, and photos simply don’t convey enough real feeling to give me that alternate perspective. But now that I have it, the world looks so incredibly different!

      I wish we could send everyone to a developing country for a few months, but that’s definitely not practical! πŸ˜› But as you and others have mentioned in the comments, we really don’t need to travel anywhere to gain that new perspective. While video, news, and photos might not convey enough of that alternative perspective, I think the right storytelling and a firsthand account of the experiences can convey a lot — which is what I was hoping to do with this post (and thankfully, it seemed to have worked!). πŸ™‚

  12. As I was thinking about this recession and this moment in the U.S. history, I think this is a very teachable moment for the citizens of America. We’ve finally experienced some semblance of hardship here, which is a great lesson for many people. We’re too use to spending on credit or other people’s money. In other countries, spending money you haven’t made is a foreign concept. So with this downturn, maybe Americans can finally learn to live within their means. Whats fascinating to me is the media and political reactions resulting from all this. All I’ve been seeing is Politicians being blamed for problems and a desire to get back to how things use to be. In a way we have the chance to be happy with “downsizing” and embrace it, but I do not think that is happening yet. Instead, we feel like scapegoating and rejecting this reality. It may be awhile before enough of us can see how we’ve been living is unsustainable.

    • I think the recession has definitely helped a lot of people scale back (both by force but also because they recognize how much they don’t need). I know this because I was one of those people!

      A few years ago, I owned three rental properties that I had intended on keeping as long-term investments. I lost all three of them in 2007 with the sub-prime mortgage crisis and ended up filing for bankruptcy. That event really helped me reevaluate material possessions, their usefulness, and the practicality of owning lots of material stuff as an assurance for long-term wealth. I realized that our own brains and life experiences are the best long-term wealth!

  13. Raam, thanks to you and the others for sharing their stories and thoughts. Many of things and experiences can only be gained through direct experiences with our own senses. Otherwise, we tend to “see” the world through the perspective of our experiences. I think this is what Bill and Karen were referring to in their comments above. However, many of us don’t have access to those direct experiences; so, listening and talking to those who do is our link to them. This is where you do such a great job. I wouldn’t have reflected on my assumptions unless I read your post.

    • Hi Greg, thank you so much for the kind words! I’m gaining valuable lessons in perspective just reading through these comments! πŸ™‚

      Questioning our assumptions is one the best ways to maintain an open-mind!

  14. I think consumerism is the symptom, the disease is lack of meaning. I think we need to deal with the disease.

    And the medicine can be pleasurable too!

    • Absolutely agree, Evan! When we sense a lack of meaning, a missing purpose, we find ways to fill the gap. In a world full of abundance, this translates into consumerism! I’m curious to hear your thoughts on what the medicine might be! πŸ™‚

      • Hi Raam, I think the answer has two sides. One is us finding our own uniqueness and calling. The other is connecting with others. The magic is in the meeting.

        I think we find real contact with others satisfying.

        I also think that our situation affects us – and (especially together) we can take action to change our situation. I think we are social-individuals as well as individual-individuals. (This is clumsy but I haven’t found a better way to say it.)

        I think it is essential to start with stuff where people can see they make a difference. This will usually be very small things – but people need to see that they can make a real difference (if only a small one). This is why child sponsorship (for all its difficulties) is so attractive. Once people have done something the next step on the path is much easier.

        These are my thoughts on the medicine.

        • Great thoughts, Evan! I think you hit on so many important points: our situation affects us, we’re social-individuals as well as individual-individuals (so true!), and people need to see they’re making a real difference.

          I think it’s difficult for many people to do things based solely on the faith that they’re helping the world (that’s exactly the way I am: I need to see and feel things for myself before they feel real). But like you said in the beginning of your comment, the magic happens when we discover how our unique potential can be used to connect with and help others. I’m very much discovering that for myself right now.

          I was already somewhat aware of my unique potential, but I didn’t know who I should be focusing on connecting it with. My six month trip overseas changed that!

          I think one reasons why it’s such a challenge for us adults to discover our unique potential is because we were never trained for it as children. I think there is a lot that can be done to improve the way children are educated and prepared for the world. They need to be trained to hone in, focus on, and develop their unique potential. Once they’ve found that, I think the helping people and connecting (the social part) comes naturally. Just think about anyone who has “found their passion”… they’re already using their passion to connect with others and improve the world around them.

  15. Dear Raam, your writing is so compelling. I read this as I walked with all my luggage in between terminals in very crowded Hong Kong airport and had to stop and drop this comment for you – your writing, your story telling, your phrases, your words and most but most of all, your message is so powerful that it makes me think twice about my own actions – my most embarrassing ones when I get angry over small stuff and later realize what a fool I have been when fortune has smiled so largely on me in this life. Thank you -and I will continue to find ways to change the world around me for the better.

    • Thank you, Farnoosh!

      We all slip up from time to time and get wrapped up in the moment! I’ve caught myself slipping back into the consumerist mentality and starting to complain or get upset about things that, in the end, have no meaning or value — I would be wasting not only my breath and peace of mind, but also my valuable time! But we move on! That’s all we can do! Recognize the error and take the next step without hesitation. That’s what I’m practicing!

      Safe travels, wherever you’re headed to next! (I’m losing track!!) πŸ™‚

      • Thank you for those words of encouragement – we lose track but we get back on the road, realize our – in my case, stupid – errors and move on. This is a hello from Singapore and then next to Indonesia for a week. I’ll practice what you preach here, dear Raam….thank you!

  16. Raam, I’m grateful that you put your heart into your writing. I liked when you said “I lived in a bubble where everything I needed was provided for me so long as I chose to conform to the rules of the bubble and keep the mask over my face.” That’s probably one of the most profound statements I’ve heard in a while. I’m glad that you’re taking the mask off and being “real”. The human voice was not meant to be silenced! I have an answer for you, but it may seem a bit simple…LOVE! That’s all. Love will solve all the worlds problems…really, it’s the most powerful force in the universe. As a human race, we’ve been throwing money at our problems since money was invented and it only made them worse. People are starving all over the globe from lack of love…will you feed them? I know that you have a heart to. One thing I know is that it costs everything you have(and I’m not talking about money). The world may be in a sad state, but it’s not without hope. I’m grateful for our friendship Raam. You’re an inspiration to me. Thanks!

    • Hi John,

      I couldn’t agree more: Love really is all we need. But we’ve forgotten what love means. We’ve mixed it with money and tried to sell it in the newspaper classifieds. Large swaths of people will argue that true love doesn’t even exist!

      Love is enough, but when we’ve forgotten what love means, it’s difficult to utilize its power.

      I’m grateful for our friendship too and thank you for being you and sharing your insight here!

      • Wow! You never cease to amaze me Raam. Sadly you’re absolutely right about love, we, as a human race, have forgotten what love means. But there really is hope. Your insight is so encouraging!

  17. Oh Raam this is so beautiful and profound. I cannot add to it because the only poverty I have seen up close and personal is deep urban decay and American ghettos, a very different sort of thing.

    I wish there was some way to bring equity to the world without also bringing the shallow values of the over-coddled. Is the price of an ungenuine smile too high to pay for the luxury of enough food, water, and warmth? It seems unfair.

    A spiritual solution is likely worth more than a material one. But I do not know. Plenty enlightened have also starved.

    • I think that last part is key! Even the enlightened can starve! The solution will come from within each individual. It will come from the passionate drive and the fire that burns inside each person who yearns to see a better world become a reality.

      Your witnessing urban decay and American ghettos is just as valid a form of poverty as any other — it’s just at a different level. I remember driving around town a few days after arriving in the States and looking at the people who, six months ago, I would’ve considered poor. To me, they now looked well off! But that doesn’t change the fact that as far as they’re concerned — and as far as everyone else around them is concerned — they’re poor!

      I think we can learn from all forms of poverty and all forms of suffering. Just as love is love, pain is pain.

      Thank you for the comment, Meg!

  18. Oh god is my ebook overdue!

    Think prevention people, not cures.

    Prevention hurts because it means we all have to change.

    Other than that it’s the easiest.

    Vegan. How does it relate? It relates across the board. Stay tuned.

    • Prevention is the only option! At this point, a cure, if one existed, isn’t even feasible! Prevention is definitely more work and it requires people with a passion and a drive to do things without expectation of reward or recognition. We need more people like that!

      Thanks, Ali! Really looking forward to the ebook! πŸ™‚

  19. I havent travelled widely but even from just where I sit the inequalities in the lifestyle of my people is extremely loud. I am Kenyan and the story of inequality here is similar to that of ‘african countries and the west’
    This past weekend I visited a more prestigious part of town,the houses are large,the people all own large luxury cars and walk their dogs on custom made leashes..
    On my way out I passed a slum,and it made me extremely sad. Little children comin from school had threadbare uniforms,the shacks they lived in were made of corrugated iron sheets and everything around them looked torn and hopeless.
    Meshing this two scenarios is easier in my case because these two places are practically neighbours…
    I would want to change something,to change the reality of the slum dwellers…but how???
    This is a really great piece Raamdev…..Im inspired to change something..

    • Thank you for sharing that story, Suetiful!

      I observed so many similar lessons in contrast when I was in Bangalore, India… there were big glass skyscrapers where IT companies had built their offices. Then, only 6 meters away, there were slums exactly like you described. It was the most incredible contrast I had ever seen.

      What can we do to help those people in the slums? I wish I had the answer. But I think if we start by educating others that such people need our help, and if we actively brainstorm and discuss possible solutions with each other, we can set in motion the change that needs to happen.

  20. Hi Raam, you don’t know me and I don’t know you, but somehow you and I and everyone who reads this post…we’re all connected. We’re connected through an idea that is so much bigger than any of us alone, but just by having this conversation, whether we realize it or not, we are making a difference.

    I hope that doesn’t sound too crazy…it’s just that I was sitting at home, working on some homework, occasionally checking my twitter account, when I came across your post. This is actually my first time visiting your site, and I am just completely blown away…by your insights, by the growing conversation here, and by this deep sense of connection that I feel.

    Sometimes I feel so completely alone and overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness…knowing that so many people are dying of thirst while I soak in my bathtub. I sometimes despise myself for throwing away broccoli that’s gone bad, knowing that there is someone out there who would give anything for that spoiled broccoli.

    Other times, I feel so completely blessed and happy to be living in such a beautiful world…so grateful for everything that I’ve been given. And still other times, I forget both of these things and become consumed by the daily tasks of working, going to school, buying things I think I need, folding laundry…

    And then there are the rare occasions when I come across something like this post. My head starts spinning, my emotions are churning, and hope starts to well up inside me.

    If you think you’re not doing anything to help, look back over this thread and think again. You’ve started a powerful conversation here. Now it’s your job, and my job, and all of our responsibility to keep it going.

    I still feel a bit overwhelmed, but at least I know I’m not alone. There must be something we can all do. Of course, there are the small things that add up that each of can do, but I believe there’s a lot more. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m going to keep thinking about this. Hold on to those memories. Let’s keep this momentum going…

    • Adrienne, reading your comment churned the same emotions inside me that I felt while writing this post! I know exactly how you feel about everything you said… from the bathtub to the broccoli to the folding laundry! I feel like I could’ve written your comment!

      It’s really incredible how connected we all are in terms of the things we want for the world — and for ourselves. Every time I connect with a stranger like yourself and discover that they’re feeling the exact same thing I’m feeling, I’m reminded how much potential we have to make something happen. I’m reminded how incredibly powerful that motivation is and how quickly the inertia can… will build up to create incredible change.

      Thank you so much for connecting, Adrienne, and I look forward to staying in touch! πŸ™‚

  21. Raam, this is a beautifully written post. I have mentioned to you before that I have traveled outside North America 6 times or so – twice to India, and 4 times to Fiji. Upon returning to America, I felt exactly as you described. The utter surrealism of our culture struck me and I felt ashamed to see the excess of Wal-mart, knowing full well how so many live without simple necessities like water, food, cleanliness, and physical safety.

    From a young age I burned to help people, to provide some social reform in a confused world. I worked for Greenpeace; dropped out of society to take shelter of the counterculture of the Rainbow gatherings and Dead shows; and finally found purpose in spiritual life. It is absolutely a fact that the material problems we face can only be remedied with spiritual solutions.

    Why is that? Because we are by nature spiritual beings. The bodies we wear and even the minds we have will fade with time, still we do not change our very essence, our soul. Therefore the highest welfare work is to remind all people to look within and become acquainted with their true selves – their souls.

    All people who are forgetful of their identity as a spirit soul are suffering. Whether he sleeps on a posturpedic or a dirt floor, a man who has amnesia will suffer because he cannot remember who he is. Such a person will be haunted by a nagging feeling of disconnect. No amount of comforts can satisfy the ache of not knowing your identity.

    Conversely, he who is filled with knowledge of himself, the Supreme, and the unbreakable bond between the two of them, will not feel suffering in any condition of life. We cannot change people’s karma. However, we can change our hearts. Once we hand our heart to the Lord, our path is no longer bound by the stringent laws of karma.

    • Hi Rangadevi,

      Your comment leaves a lot to think about!

      I think we’re all connected in many different ways and that we all, at the most basic level, desire the same thing. I also agree that we’re all spiritual beings, however I don’t think we’re living in a spiritual world, or a spiritual era. We’re living in a material era of technological innovation, advancement, and discovery. I think this is an important distinction because it gives us a way to understand why there is a disconnect from that spiritual realm.

      It’s one thing to reconnect with our spiritual selves and realize that we aren’t this material body. But our material body will still be inhabiting this physical world and we will still be responsible for acting out this drama. That’s why, for me personally, I try not to focus too heavily on the spiritual stuff and focus more on practical, real-world implementation. I think there is so much we can do right here, right now, without focusing solely on attaining enlightenment.

      The example I always use in my head when i think about these things is the story of Buddha. The story says that he sat under the Bodhisattva tree until he reached enlightenment. But what does the story say he did after that? He got up and spent the remainder of his time on Earth helping and serving people.

      If when someone reaches enlightenment, they realize that life is about helping and serving others, why shouldn’t we be focusing on doing that right now?

      Just my thoughts! Thank you so much for sharing yours! πŸ™‚

  22. I wake up today, make my all organic breakfast, sit in my reading nook with the sun shining through the window, grab my down comforter as the breeze comes through. I open my laptop and open my rss feeds, start reading, not knowing what im looking for. Trying to better myself, trying to simplify. Knowing deep down there is something more that im forgetting, something, that should be held close. I then come to your feed, situated among the others with their own colored backgrounds thanks to google. And there it is, that feeling ive been forgetting. How fortunate and lucky I am to be given such privileges. How easy it us to forget how blessed my life has been. Not to be wasted I need to get up and make something happen. Thank you for the reminder.

  23. Hey Raam,
    This post provoked varied thoughts and feelings within me that I won’t be able to properly elaborate in one comment. Having grown up in Kenya where contrast is part of daily life, and also having travelled to the more developed parts of the world, I understand your sentiments.

    However, I think that the solution to helping poorer people to improve the state of their external environment is not something that can be created, packaged and implemented in one go. From the comments I have read it seems as though a solution will come to us one day and then the world will be a much better place the next day.

    I have thought about it for a long time too, and I used to think that the answer would come in one big solution but now I see that the combination of many small actions (like what you are doing with your blog and ebook) culminate in visible change after a while.

    What Im saying is that change/ progress is a process and it is in choosing to do good daily that we create positive impact. So even though we may not see the impact of our actions immediately and in a big way now, when we look back in hindsight after some time we will notice the actual quantum change.

    We can continue talking on skype/ gtalk if you are up to it.

    • Hi Mel,

      I absolutely agree that there is no complete package that will solve the worlds problems. It’s going to take the cumulative effect of many small changes over a long period of time.

      But I love the way you reminded us that we will only recognize this in hindsight. I feel that the ball has already started rolling. The spark has already started the fire. The fact that all of us here are having having this discussion and others are reading it with interest, proves it. I think the key now is to keep providing fuel. To keep walking in the right direction, one step at a time.

      The extremely simple act of having a thought is the precursor to all action, so I think we’re on the right track! Daily positive thinking and small steps of action will add up to enormous progress.

  24. What a brilliantly composed perspective on just how much potential we’ve wasted in the “developed” world. You touched on so many things that have crossed my mind when I step back and really examine what society has become here in the U.S. as compared to what I’ve seen in my own travels.

    You’ve no doubt inspired a lot of people, including myself, to, as Gandhi said, be the change we want to see in the world.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Dustin. The discussion that this post has spurred is incredibly valuable. I still find myself re-reading all these comments every day or so and every time I read something I feel that I missed!

      It’s interesting to watch myself readjust to life here in the States. It’s been just over two weeks now and I’m definitely noticing how all the little things that surprised and affected me when I first arrived are slowly disappearing! I think for anyone returning from being away for a long time could really benefit by writing about their initial observations, because I think those are so rarely captured.
      I try to live my life by the Gandhi quote! πŸ™‚

  25. Hi Raam,
    I can’t believe I have not discovered your blog before now. I love this piece. It is so beautifully written and really shows how travel can be such a powerful way to open one’s mind and as a result have a positive impact on the world.
    Solutions to these sorts of problems are almost impossible to find. We all just have to follow Ghandi’s advice. Be the change you wish to see in the world. If we all focus on being that, then the world will become that reality.
    I love how you said “happiness was not something to look forward to on the weekend but something to be shared between two people over tea” This is why I can never stop traveling and why I always have happiness following me around. It is here right now, not something to be chased down.

    • Thank you, Caz!

      I think travel has a wonderful way of reminding us that everything changes and it helps us naturally narrow down what’s important in life. It’s difficult to take the important things for granted when you’re constantly moving, because that’s generally all you have anyway! I think the trick is to learn how to remember how important those small things are, and to genuinely appreciate them in the moment, without actually traveling!

      I’ve been back in the US for a little more than two weeks now and I’m already finding myself losing touch with the moment!

  26. Reading your post made me think of my original country. I am living in Turkey now but grew up and opted into the rat race of the UK. I never planned to settle in Turkey, it all happened quite by coincidence but your post made me realize that I am scared to go back to the UK, even just for a holiday.

    Not been in seven, eight years now and the thought of going back fills me with fear for an unbeknown reason. I think it is because I just could not cope with the “perfect world” because every Brit that I came across ( holidaying in Turkey) is not happy with their perfect life.

    I don’t know, you have really got me thinking now. Will have to come back later.

    • Hi Natalie,

      I’m beginning to discover how much of an effect our environment has on our overall well-being, especially on our thoughts and emotions. There are so many subtle things that our environment does to us that we’re not even aware of and I think when we spend a lot of time in one environment (like you did in the UK and I did in the US) and then we shift to an entirely different environment for an extended period of time, it becomes much easier to see those subtle effects.

      But the interesting thing is how quickly the new environment can suck us in and start feeling entirely normal. I’ve only been back in the US for two weeks now and already all those subtle things I was noticing are becoming increasing difficult to see and feel. It’s almost as if they’re disappearing altogether!

  27. Beautiful and poignant post. I’m in Cairo right now and have no idea what it will feel like to return to UK or the States…. I think it will no longer feel like home.

    • Thank you, Forest. I think it will still feel like home, but to a lesser degree, and you might feel like you have two homes now. I certainly feel that way about India and Nepal and I long to go back. I’d love to read your thoughts and observations when you return!

  28. Wow! Such a thought provoking post as well as each of the comments. I can’t help but think that we have developed a large disconnect with our environment. We forget that there is this web of life and we are all connected. We’ve created all these “things” that insulate us from the “real” world and instead of interacting directly we interact via proxy and it’s not nearly the same. I think when we try and separate ourselves from the world we live in we end up masking or losing our sense of belonging and I think that is what we are all searching for.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Matt! I also think it’s the disconnect from reality that causes us to long for a feeling of purpose and meaning to life. The further we detach ourselves from reality, the more our subconscious tells us we need it!

      However, I’ve seen a lot of discussions like this lead to people concluding that we need to abolish all technology and go back to living directly off the land with simple tools. I’m against that and I believe that we can utilize the incredible technology and wealth of information and knowledge available to us to make better and more informed decisions. We just need to remember they are tools and then find ways to use those tools to create a better future and improve the overall well-being for all humans.

      • While I totally agree that we need to fully utilize the incredible technology at our fingertips I also wonder if the pace of technological advancement isn’t growing too quickly. Is our humanity being allowed to grow along with all this technology? It often seems that the pace of technological growth far exceeds our capacity to rationalize it. I also think that quite often we live our lives as if whatever problems we create will be solved by technology and if the technology doesn’t exist today well, we’ll have it one day. To me this seems like a short-sighted approach. But I’m in full agreement that using tools to better the world and future for all humanity should be our primary focus. Just thinking out load here and I love that your posts force me to do that.

        • I agree, Matt, and I’ve thought a lot about how technology is causing us to lose a lot of our humanity — we’re adopting the principals of machines (productivity, speed, urgency, precision, multi-tasking, etc). However, I’ve concluded that in the bigger picture of human evolution, it’s inevitable. There’s nothing that’s going to stop the advancement of technology and our adoption of it into our lives (except maybe a plague, asteroid, or other natural disaster that forces peoples’ priorities to change).

          That said, I think that the only thing left is to get people thinking about how we can use this incredible technology to do good. How can we use it to do things other than make us money, create new toys and excitements, or allow us to simply do things faster and be more productive? I think that at this stage in human evolution, technology is so new that we don’t even see the really obvious uses for it, things that I think people 100 or 200 years from now will look back us and wonder why we didn’t use them for that purpose sooner. Things that lead to improvement for all humanity, for educating those who need education, and for spreading information and knowledge where it needs to be spread (to help eliminate inequality and ignorance).

          However, there is absolutely a need for everyone right now to recognize that technology isn’t the future. We are the future. Technology is the tool and we are its user. It almost seems like we feel as though technology is god and we need to worship it before it gets mad and turns against us or something. WE are in control and we, as individuals, have incredible power to do stuff with these tools.

          I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this all week, with regards to how mobile phones have changed the way we communicate and interact (I was talking to @ShannonRTW about this too when we met). We have voluntarily chosen to place more value on the interaction that can happen with the pieces of technology in our pockets than on the person in front of us who we’re having a conversation with — our priorities are misplaced!

  29. The idea that ‘technological problems have technological solutions’ I like to call “junkie logic”. I think that sometimes the way we got into the mess isn’t what will get us out of it.

    There are lots of technologies not being utilised. And it si revealing to see which ones are and aren’t. It is possible to use technology to do kerbing, guttering and drainage and so reduce massively the number dying from malaria, it is possible to use the technology to do 3D movies and so spend hundreds of millions on making movies. One is being used and one isn’t.

    • Hmm but how much money did you spend on movies last year VS guttering and drainage. If it was more on movies, don’t worry, apparantly I care more about being entertained than people staying healthy and happy too.

    • I totally agree, Evan. It all comes down to our individual priorities. If our individual priorities are satisfying our egos and quenching our thirst for pleasure at the expense of others, then we’re going to end up using technology for the wrong reasons.

  30. “That feeling that they might be living in a house of cards that could come tumbling down at any moment; that feeling that their life is missing purpose and meaning”, i particularly liked this idea, got me thinking, really thinking. A very thought provoking post you’ve got here, in fact, my head is bursting with ideas and thoughts after reading your posts. Keep them coming!!

  31. Hi Raam,

    Thanks for a wonderful post which along with all the lovely comments people have made – make me feel that I am not alone in my thoughts. I have only recently found your blog and am working my way through it. It’s wonderful.

    It has given me lots to think about and the strength to continue being the change I want to see in the world.

    It’s just what I needed to read this morning – it’s the day my Mum died 5 years ago and I needed some inspiration.

    Love to you all and I look forward to reading more x x

    • Hi Debbie,

      You’re most welcome! We all need someone to help motivate us and show us that we’re not alone. It’s comments like yours that inspire me every day, so thank you!

  32. “Insulated from real hardship, I voluntarily created hardship to challenge myself.” That is so true. Probably true for the majority of the people. I know it is for me

    • I think we, as humans, are wired for challenge. We’re wired to push ourselves. When we’re placed inside an environment where there is no challenge (or where we’re isolated from challenge), we simply create it. We just need to see where the real, urgent and meaningful challenges exist and then work towards tackling those.

      Imagine if all the creative, scientific, and intellectual power that goes into developing marketing ads to convince us to buy junk, was instead directed towards solving world hunger? We have a responsibility to do more and to share what we have.

  33. Enjoyed this post, very thought provoking but have to challenge you about some of the judgmental assertions you make in the article. For example, I have to take issue with your statement that people in the US are “bored out of their minds”. You may have been bored, I might be bored, but that doesn’t everyone is bored living in the west. I think you are projecting how you feel in your own culture on the entire US population. You see, when I was young, I thought like you, but now I’m 50 I see we arent all wired the same way, many of us preferring the ties of home, family and security over adventure. And as for imagining laws and social stigma weigh more on people in the west, I think you couldn’t be more wrong. When you look at a culture from outside and not live it from the inside it looks good because you don’t fully understand the cultural mores and pressures people are experiencing.

    Lastly as a woman, a feminist and a teacherI am terribly grateful that I can live the life I have. I chose when I had children, they all grew to adulthood, I was able to move out of a bad marriage and get a degree in my 30’s- all these things would absolutely not be possible for most women in the developing world.

    Thanks for stirring me up to think again about all this and I do appreciate the call to action. By the way, I’m not from the US but the UK, but I’ve lived in the US, a couple of other countries and now live in NZ. I’m actively considering doing a stint working with women in the developing world.

    • Hi Deborah,

      Thank you for your comment and for your work and life as a teacher and a mother.

      This post was a description of how I felt returning to the United States after spending six months in a developing country. I certainly don’t believe everyone living in the West is bored or that we should all quit our jobs, sell our stuff, and start traveling the world. However, we are extremely privileged in the West and my observations tell me that we’re being far more selfish than we should be. We’re generating enormous amounts of needless waste while billions of people are struggling to survive.

      While traveling through India, I observed so many things that seemed to cause people to live a more relaxed life. If the power went out, it wasn’t the end of the world. Traffic rules were not so strict that a robot could easily follow them. Everything felt more “natural”, as opposed to orchestrated and manufactured. Is the more natural way a healthier way to live? Is it a more sustainable way to live? I think so. I think we’re manufacturing too much of our lives here in the West and that those manufactured lifestyles are being reinforced by the media and social customs that we’re brought up to believe are true and correct.

      I often write about my observations here on this blog, observations from my very limited perspective. I’m certainly not assuming that I have a complete picture of how things work or that my observations tell the whole story. My measly 29 years of life experience could never compare to the experience of someone like yourself. And that’s why I love that you wrote your thoughts here. I hold a lot of respect for those elder to me and I know I have much to learn.

    • Every time I reread this post, it has the same affect on me. I make it a point to periodically go back and read this to remind myself how important these lessons are.

  34. What “good” can we do? We need to be mindful that the definition of “good” for some of us is from the perspective of our minds from privileged countries. I think we can all agree that people should not be starving to death, dying in the cold or heat for lack of shelter, or because of preventable diseases or sickness, or die in the hands of a cruel criminal or oppressive groups or governments or oppressed by their corrupted governments. This to me is where the need is and I hope when someone says “equality,” it does not mean to make them become like the “privileged” because as we have seen in this post and these comments many of the privileged ways are not worth striving for but instead to be thrown away. Let us leave that to them when and if they should come to that point. We have our own problems as privileged and let’s hope they learn from what they see. Or will it be inevitable that this is the course that they take?

    In the meantime, the list of tasks above, though by no means a complete list, is a good starting point. The charities crying out for donation (late at night when one is before the TV contemplating his or her purpose in life) to prevent hunger get it, if not partially. I hope they are trying to also teach them how to fish rather than just give the fish. Like the teacher giving the kids education. The Peace Corps gets it. (I hope to join them in a few years when I have settled all the issues I have weaved myself into in this privileged world.) Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, and on and on and on. Not to say that these organizations is the answer because obviously the problems still exist. Maybe they don’t have enough resources. Maybe not enough volunteers. Or in some cases, hopefully what I hear is not true, administration costs eating up too much of the donations. Not enough whatever it is they need to change a corruptive way of life.
    Isn’t this is where we come in? Do we donate? Do we volunteer? Do we go to these places and share our talents? All of the above? Or should we work on ourselves so that we can come to that point where parting with some of our wealth, time, and talent is not charity but doing justice? To that point where love, compassion, forgiveness, kindness is the way? To be the change in the world. So that as Raam brings awareness to all of us about this issue, we truly feel and know what he means by: “Your privileges and good fortunes give you immense power. How you choose to use those privileges and that power is entirely up to you. What life means is up to you. Make life mean something. Start now.”

    Ohh. So much things to be done.

    Thank you Raam for a beautiful you and this beautiful project.

    • Ben, thank you for sharing your thoughts here and adding so much to the conversation. πŸ™‚

      “Or should we work on ourselves so that we can come to that point where parting with some of our wealth, time, and talent is not charity but doing justice?” Yes, I believe that is what we should be doing. Other things can and should be done in parallel (volunteer, donate, share talents, etc.), but unless we understand deep inside why we’re doing those things, unless we genuinely want to give, we won’t be doing them for the right reasons.

      It’s true that the societies in developed countries are privileged and that we need to stop consuming and wasting so much, but I don’t think it should all be “thrown away”. There is so much good that can be taken and applied in a more sustainable way. And if we, the privileged societies, set and example and lead the way to a more sustainable way to live with abundance, then we will help lead the rest of the world in a better direction. Because no matter how screwed up, unsustainable, and unhealthy our way of life may be, we are still seen as the leaders. We are the trendsetters. We are who developing countries look to for the direction of their own future.

      Let’s set a better example for them and lead the rest of the world to a more sustainable path by fixing our own personal lifestyles and finding ways to make the abundance we have access to sustainable.

  35. Thank You, it’s so true! I’ve had this interesting opportunity to be on my own lately…after raising a family, and I feel this deeply..

    If not now, when
    If not you, who

    Let’s get to it!!
    Cheers, Laurie

    • You’re most welcome, Laurie! It’s never too late!!

      I encourage you to share your explorations–inner and outer–with everyone on the web. If you choose to do so, please come back and post a link here for us to follow along. πŸ™‚

  36. Hello Raam, I know this is posted years ago but i believe it’s still relevant to this day. Great story. Love what you said at the end that, “Your privileges and good fortunes give you immense power. How you choose to use those privileges and that power is entirely up to you. What life means is up to you. Make life mean something.”

    • Hi Will,

      Even though I’ve written so many posts since this one, I often think back to this post and these thoughts, especially as my own material wealth and prosperity increases and my life evolves, presenting me with new challenges and new choices.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!


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