Saturday, September 18, 2010

Plenty: Guilt or Sense of Responsibility?

Inspired by Jeffrey's post, "Controversial Issues," I decided that I should share an opinion of mine that has come with a great deal of thought.

Most who know me, are aware that I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years in the West African nations of Liberia and Sierra Leone. These two countries  are among the most impoverished  in the world; with some of the lowest GDP per capita and Human Development Index ratings in the world. For those not familiar with these measures, mind boggling abject poverty is as close to an accurate description as I can muster.  For two years, I lived and loved among people who had next to nothing in regards to earthly possessions.

When I returned to the United States, it was my initial response to feel guilty for everythingwe had—to walk into into a Wal-Mart for the first time since being home was an experience that I would have a difficult time putting into words. However, after a lot of thought (and an Econ 110 class at BYU) my perspective changed. I realized that levels of wealth, health, and lifestyle are not zero sum game. What do I mean by this? In the most simple terms, the fact that our things are nice in America, does not mean that there can't be nice things in Africa (If you have questions about that and would like to read more, I strongly suggest reading the book Naked Economics). I also realized that guilt is not a meaningful and productive emotion. I discovered that rather than feel guilty for what I had and the circumstances and opportunities that I have been blessed with, I needed to feel both a pronounced sense of gratitude and responsibility. I believe there is profound truth in the oft-considered trite statement "Where much is given much is required."

So this is my invitation to all: Don't feel guilty about your circumstances, love them. Feel deep gratitude for all that you have been blessed with, start thinking about ways that you can give back, and then commit to making the world around you a better place.