Lately I’ve been thinking about how the idea of “Gratitude” truly relates to us North Americans; because from what I’ve seen, it seems our society as a whole has a distorted idea of what this word means, often to the point where we don’t recognize it’s truest form. Let me explain:
In the dictionary, gratitude is defined as “thankfulness” – so far, so good. But here’s the thing: What is it we should be thankful for? Or how about, WHERE does this gratitude begin, especially as it relates to those things that – while pedestrian in our lives – would be absolute miracles for other people around the world? The truth is that most of us in the Western world have no clue just how lucky we are to have been born in North America; a country that values freedom, human rights and provides enough mechanisms to ensure that every single person has an opportunity to live with dignity*. And if you aren’t quite sure what my point is, then see if this scenario sounds familiar:
On any given morning, the average person will wake up, grab a coffee, check emails (and Facebook), have a hot shower, get dressed, and eventually head off to work. They’ll work all day at a job that doesn’t feel as fulfilling as it could be (made even worse with “low” pay, unappreciative bosses, unrealistic deadlines, etc.) but hey, it pays the bills for now so they keep slogging away, year after year, and besides – they get 2-3 weeks paid vacation each year.
After work they’ll head back home, probably grab a beer, order in some dinner and – after checking emails and Facebook again – settle into a night of watching movies, sports or series on T.V. with a spouse/significant other. If they have kids, they’ll probably play games or surf the net in their respective rooms, and on their own electronic devices, not to be seen for the rest of the night. Weekends are mostly spent hanging out with friends or working around the house; maybe even relaxing with a cold beer at
4pm 5pm before settling in for the evening, and especially before Monday morning rolls around and we start it all over again…
And while some of the details here might vary a bit here and there, I think most would agree this is a pretty accurate pattern for most North Americans, right? And also to be clear, I’m not judging; the truth is that right now this is exactly how we’ve been living recently around the Knapp-Fisher household – except we NEVER order in food – I always make sure to cook, because it’s cheaper and better than any take-out could be. We also don’t turn on a T.V. until after we’ve had dinner together at the table, to discuss our days; but I digress…
So here’s a question: In this scenario, how many things should the average North American be grateful for? Short answer – ALL OF THEM. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case – in fact, most of us aren’t grateful at all for the massive abundances we have. Even worse, most people not only feel they are entitled to all they have, but often feel that they should actually have (and deserve) even more! These folks are so dulled by the massive amount of “stuff” they have and consume in their day-to-day lives, they actually believe this is the way it is, and is supposed to be for everyone!
This gluttony explains why this year (according to Credit-monitoring agency TransUnion) non-mortgage debt for the average Canadian has hit $28,853, and has no sign of slowing down… and how grateful (or happy) would anyone feel shouldering this kind of financial burden, month after month, year after year? Not very; but here’s the rub: I truly believe it’s the absolute lack of gratitude for what these people already have, that causes their misery, not the lack of more “stuff”…
Stopping To Smell The Roses
The problem is that most people have no reference to realize we live in Nirvana; and that life in our western world keeps getting better and better, compared to many other countries who are stuck in “Third World Status”. And why is it that so few have a reference point? Simple – they never go to impoverished countries and take a look at how most of the world lives. (And no, that one day you saw a kid begging in Puerto Vallarta on your way back to the all-inclusive doesn’t count) This is one of the main reasons I travel – to see these kinds of things for myself; but for some reason, Paula and I seem to be in the minority here… check this out;
According to various stats I’ve found online, approximately 50% of North Americans have passports; (the number goes up and down each year, and statistically Canadians always have more than our southern neighbours) and of those who do, many don’t travel to third world countries to see what poverty looks like for themselves; so unless it’s brought to their attention (and they care to actually listen) most people wouldn’t know that the various things they have and do in their lives are often (a) massively abundant or wasteful, or (b) might come at a cost to others around the world. Let’s look again at the above scenario again, but this time add in some global facts for comparison:
Housing: Think your house is too small? Need “more space” to expand? According to United Nations, the conservative estimate of the total population of homeless to 200 million; this does not include Bedouins, or other nomadic peoples… once you wrap your head around this fact, chances are you’ll quickly see that (a) you are lucky to have a home, and (b) that it’s big enough already.
Sanitation: Feel like a nice, cool glass of water? Next time you easily turn on your tap to get one instantly delivered, think about the 1.1 billion people in developing countries who have inadequate access to water; oh, and before your use that toilet, just remember that 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation – not to mention the diseases that surround such living conditions, or the lack of doctors or health care available to treat these same people… what a terrifying thought. If only they could just turn a tap, or flush away the days business so easily… if they could, I bet they’d think they were in Heaven.
Morning Coffee: Can you believe that Starbucks charges almost $4- for a cup of coffee? It’s an outrage, right? Maybe so – but not so much of an outrage as the fact that on average, coffee pickers make as little as $2- or $3- PER DAY in places such as Nicaragua – despite that the minimum wage is, in theory, close to US$6- per hour. And no, they can’t start a union, it just doesn’t work that way. Also note that approximately 30 % of the workers are under 15 years of age; all of whom I’m pretty sure, don’t have their own iPads and cel phones.
Technology: Speaking of iPads, iPhones, big screen “Smart T.V.’s” etc. here’s something to think about: The average North American home has 3 television sets and 5 “connected” devices including smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TVs and digital photo frames… Oh wait, it gets better: 6% of households surveyed had 15 of these devices! 15?! But wait, now here comes the really shocking part, which is the cost of all this technology; and when I say “cost”, I’m not talking in dollars, but in human collateral.
Ever wonder who builds that iPhone 6 you waited all night in line to get? How about the two iPads you gave the twins for Christmas? These things mostly come from China, and the conditions that they are made in are downright inhuman, deplorable and would be criminal if in North America. Research has revealed disturbing allegations of draconian workplace rules and excessive working hours at two major plants in the south. After a series of employee suicides (14 in total) a condition of employment became that workers have to sign an “anti-suicide” pledge – which basically says they agree not to kill themselves due to misery brought on by horrific working conditions where workers are treated “inhumanely, like machines” often working 12 – 16 hours a day, with no time off. But the good news is that we are all getting a NEW iPhones next month!
Wages: Still think you job sucks, and that the boss doesn’t pay you what you’re worth? It might surprise you to know that almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day – less than one hour of the B.C. minimum wage. And despite the fact that more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening, you’ll never hear of a “Occupy Siem Reip” or “Occupy Bejing”because they don’t exist. To be honest, if they were attempted, they’d probably last about one hour before beatings, torture and most likely killing would occur… what, you don’t believe me? So yes, we should also be grateful for “Free Speech”, despite the fact it gets taken advantage of by some people.
The Purpose of This Post
My intention with this post is not to suggest that we North Americans are a bunch of spoiled brats who over-consume and over-indulge in every whim and fancy that comes our way; (although there is plenty of that going on as well) but more to make the case that we have SO MUCH in our life and our country that we take for granted… and maybe, just maybe every once in a while we should just stop complaining about “small stuff” and be grateful for what we have – because as you can see, for much of the world, it’s a whole lot worse.
I’m hoping that these shocking statistics and examples cause you – the reader – to pause for a moment, and remember that just because we had a “bad” day at work, or our car broke down, or the food at the restaurant wasn’t very good, or our portfolio or house value declined 2%, etc. etc. that in reality we still have a lot to be grateful for, right? What’s that you say? You don’t like Stephen Harper and think he’s a crook? All I say is maybe he is, maybe he’s not – but I’ll take him and our government over Kim Jong Un any day. And that’s my point – Even when things don’t go 100% in our favour, remember it could be worse – A LOT worse – and for much of the world it is. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that we’ll take our “First World” problems over their “Third World” problems any day, right?
So with that said, I’d challenge anyone reading this to make a list of 10 things they are grateful for, and then act upon that list and show gratitude for those things in a real, physical way. This action is a sure way to understand just how lucky we all are to have won the “Cosmic Lottery” of being lucky enough to live here in Canada. And for that fact alone, I for one, am truly grateful… are you?
*When I say opportunity to live with dignity, I’m referring to the fact that we have a government and social systems that ensure opportunities for it’s citizens – whether or not they choose to participate in them is another story. To compare “social problems” of North America with the plights of the internationals mentioned here is an unrealistic comparison.