In Pursuit of Gratitude

I have been fortunate to have traveled to far-flung places throughout the world where living conditions differ from my own more than I can adequately describe. In Central America, I witnessed four generations of a family living in a one room thatched roof shack with a dirt floor, without running water or electricity. I’ve seen thousands of people crammed inside an Indian slum, forced to use the public streets as a bathroom.

Very few Americans can identify with that kind of life. Still, somehow so many are angry. They say they work too hard and don’t make enough money. They believe they’d have a better job if so many immigrants hadn’t come and taken them. College isn’t free and nice things cost money. If you believe them, life in America really sucks.

I think most can agree that this anger is real, but I believe it’s misguided. I don’t understand the logic behind blaming the government for an immigration policy that allows people seeking a better life to bring their skills and contribute to our economy, or capitalistic economic policies that reward hard work and creativity. I think the arguments of those most angered by our government’s failures could benefit from some introspection, which, hopefully would lead to an acceptance of at least some personal responsibility for their circumstances.  

Garment stitchers in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

Garment stitchers in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

A man in Dharavi processing goat entrails that will eventually become surgical thread.

A man in Dharavi processing goat entrails that will eventually become surgical thread.

Every time I hear people talk about restoring our country to greatness, as if it’s currently a terrible place, I can’t help but mentally catalog all of the places that, by comparison, make this country look like Heaven on Earth. There are far worse places to try to make it. There are few other places in this world where a determined, hard working individual can transcend their circumstances and completely change their life. Americans are not bound by caste or creed. Upward mobility in this country is a choice we are all given, not a fantasy or a birthright, as it is for so many others in this world. The sense of entitlement that is so pervasive in the United States simply doesn’t exist in many other cultures.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to do better.  There is always room for improvement, and better is always a worthy goal. My point is that we would be far better served to redirect the conversation from hate, anger, and blame to constructive discussions about how we can improve our lives in this country. Let’s stop blaming certain race and religious groups for what’s wrong in our lives. Let’s quit demanding that the government take care of us. Instead, let’s turn the focus inward and ask ourselves what we can personally do to make our existences better. Then, let’s observe the world around us with grateful hearts, thankful that we are blessed enough to live in the greatest country in the world.

The people I encountered in other parts of the world who live meager existences, eat the same food, and work until they die, for the most part, were happy. They toil tirelessly as subsistence farmers, or they work long hours in garment factories until their fingers bleed. They understand that working hard is part of life, and in many cases, is life. Billions of people in this world work daily to support each other as integral functions in the community machine, knowing a handout isn’t coming, probably never stopping to fantasize about how much better things could be if the government would just get it together.

In Sarstun, Guatemala there are no roads. Families like this one travel exclusively in cayucos to fetch water from the town pump each day.

In Sarstun, Guatemala there are no roads. Families like this one travel exclusively in cayucos to fetch water from the town pump each day.

I recognize this diatribe sounds preachy, and that isn’t my intent. It’s just that the negativity that has spread like a cancer throughout this election season has really made me hurt for our country. We are all brothers and sisters in freedom and we need to love each other a little more.