The more I learn about history and the rest of the world, the more I realize how absurdly, staggeringly lucky I am.
24 million people in North Korea live under the heel of an all-consuming, utterly repressive regime. 10 million people in Somalia face the opposite problem, with no functioning government at all, plagued by waves of lawless violence as a matter of course.
80% of the world – that’s over five billion people – lives on less than $10 a day, less than $4,000 a year.
Meanwhile, my main worries in life are the flat tire I got yesterday morning (which I switched for a donut but still need to replace), the pressures of my job, and what I’m going to post on the blog.
It’s crazy when you think about it. It’s crazy when you don’t.
The phrase “first world problems” evolved to describe exactly this situation. It’s partly a joke, and partly a real awareness of the place that some of us occupy in the world. It’s a way of saying, “Wow, your remote control is broken and you’re out of batteries? How sad for you.”
For me, the question has always been: what now? What am I supposed to do with the information that most of my problems are trivial compared to the rest of the planet? What am I supposed to think about myself? What should I do?
Here’s what I’ve found so far.
To start with: as with nearly all other aspects of life, worry doesn’t help. Neither does guilt. Stewing in anxiety is worse than useless. One of my favorite quotes from the Bible is “Whatever your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might.” If you’re worried, either do something about it or let it go.
With that in mind, there are two separate but parallel courses to take.
First: solve your own problems. Deal with your own life. The knowledge that your troubles are relatively minor for the most part, doesn’t actually make them disappear. Fix it. This one’s a no-brainer.
And second: if you really care about the larger issues out there, do something about it. Volunteer. Give to a group like Doctors Without Borders. Make a difference.
And if you have to feel something about that yawning gulf between yourself and everyone else? Feel gratitude, and feel compassion.
The world doesn’t need your pity, but it needs your help.
If I’m coming across as preachy right now, understand that I’m largely preaching to myself. Talking things over on the blog is my way of figuring them out. My brain still hasn’t figured out quite what to make of this world map hanging on my wall.
Do you ever think about this kind of stuff? Where have those thoughts taken you?