Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Where did all the good people go?

I am standing in my nice hot shower and listening to Jack Johnson being pumped into the bathroom by the surround-sound speakers the landlord conveniently wired into this apartment. At the same time as the song "Where did all the good people go?" starts playing, I being pondering on the fact that ironically I have a better standard of living in China than I have ever had in my whole life.

How do I reconcile myself with this?

How does the girl who traipsed off to disaster ridden East Timor, with nothing but a backpack and a desire to do something good, reconcile herself with the fact that she now has a maid who comes 4 times a week to wash her dishes and clean her dirty clothes?

How does the girl who lived in a village in Nepal for a year, organising skills-training and income-generating programs for the poorest of the poor, reconcile herself with the fact that when she is hungry she can phone for a pizza that cost the monthly earnings of the 60 year old man begging outside her apartment for the box the pizza came in?

How does the girl who's worked for innumerable not-for-profit organisations reconcile herself with the fact that she can go to a bar and spend what it would cost to feed a family for a week, and then walk out the door and tell the mother begging on the street that she has no change?

How does the girl who recieved a Young Australian of the Year Award for the Blue Mountains area in 2001, now recieve a monthly income that far exceeds the average local wage?

Phil and I are far from living the rich expat life of many foreigners here, and even less so now that I have quit working full-time. Yet even though we are tightening our belts and sticking to a strict budget these days we can still afford to live a fairly luxurious life. I have tried to find some organisations to donate my time to, however finding a truly accountable NGO in Government-controlled Shanghai is no easy task. I know I could try harder in this quest, and am wary of making excuses for myself.

After I returned from Nepal I was so overwhelmed emotionally and spiritually that I felt I needed a break from poverty and injustice. But when I strive to be an ethical citizen of the world, how long a break is too long? Have I become truly disillusioned with the development world? Or have I just become disillusioned with myself? In 3 years I have gone from "campaigning development worker" to "capitalist scum".

Where did the good me go?

2 comments:

natalie said...

even though i've hardly left my own neighborhood, let alone spent any quality time outside of my country, i can relate. i remember life before marriage and kids when all i wanted to do was rid the world of injustice. now my daily focus seems to be ridding my house of dirty diapers.

remember that contentedness isn't the same as complacency. and sometimes its okay to be comfortable. but it is never okay to let the "good you" go.

and thank you for the reminder.

Louise said...

And thank you too for the words of wisdom Natalie. It is hard sometimes to remember that contentedness does not, as you say, equal complacency. I try to remember that being happy does not equate with apathy, but sometimes I wonder if I am just trying to rationalise my own (lack of)actions. It would be nice to be able to step outside ourselves for a while and really analyse our lives objectively for once.