Monday, May 12, 2014

Middle-to-Upper Class Guilt

I am not wealthy.

I am far from being wealthy.

Yet I am actually pretty wealthy.

Sometimes I wait a few seconds for the tap water to get cold before filling my glass, and I don't think much about the clean water going down the drain.

I drive a car. I own a car. I can pay for gas to fuel my car.

I have a job. 

I had the chance to graduate high school.

I go to college.

I have free time.

I am not wealthy.

I am far from being wealthy.

Yet I am actually pretty wealthy.

Should I feel guilty?

I lived in Ecuador for a year. I lived with a host family, worked in a local clinic and tried my hardest to immerse myself into the Ecuadorian way of life.

I felt many emotions when I was leaving Ecuador to come back to the United States. I wondered how I could possibly mix my new simplified way of life with my old, energy-inefficient American lifestyle.

I had a dream a few weeks before I left:

I dreamt that I was walking through my town in Puerto Quito. It was a normal day, except for some reason I was in a hurry. That was odd, as I was hardly ever in a hurry; rushing just doesn't mesh with the relaxed Puerto Quito lifestyle.

Some boy was whistling at me.

I kept walking.

Men whistle at women all the time in Ecuador and it annoys me more than anything.

I assumed this boy wanted my attention and I was in a hurry. I never gave him a second glance.

..but this boy was very persistent. He was abnormally persistent; he was annoyingly persistent.

As I sped-walk to the bus station, he kept trying to get my attention. I continued to ignore him. Can't he take a hint?

Finally, I turned toward him to yell at him to stop.

I was shocked by what I saw.

This boy was not begging for my attention to tell me I was guapa or su reina. No. There was something wrong with this boy.

His entire face was gone. Just gone. It was morphed into a black hole of nothing. It appalled me. It scared me. He didn't want to annoy me; he wanted my help.

The guilt I felt in that moment was real and pure guilt, stronger than I had ever felt in my life. I could not believe that I ignored this hurting young boy for such silly reasons -- being in such a rush and immediately stereotyping this person I didn't know before I even took a moment to look at him.

I woke up to the intense guilty feeling. My heart was beating a million miles a  minute and I was sweating. Even though it was a dream, I could not forgive myself for being foolish and ignorant.

From that moment forward, I decided I would try my hardest to never ignore someone in need. Even though my life would become busier and less energy-efficient and totally different, I would always remember the lesson that dream taught me.

In America, I can waste water to my pleasing. I can drive a car. I can go to college.

The fact is that I can enjoy these things while many of my sisters and brothers throughout my country and my world cannot. Should I feel guilty because of this blatant inequality? Is there anything I can do to ease the guilt I sometimes feel due to it?

I am still figuring out the answer to those questions for myself. I honestly don't know if feeling guilty is an appropriate response to the obvious injustice I see everywhere. I honestly don't know if feeling guilty leads to any improvement of anyone's situation. I honestly don't know what I can do to better this inequality yet.

But, for now, I do know that I can open my eyes and stop ignoring the people around me in need. While I may not have a big picture solution to the unfairness yet, I can make a difference to one person for one moment and it does make a difference. I can buy a meal for the homeless person I see on my drive to work. I can offer a kind word to a stranger who seems to be having a bad day. I can offer a helping hand and a willing heart to a friend in need. I can offer my time and talents to a local charity. There are a lot of things I can do to make the world a better place today, and the first step is opening my eyes to the boy with no face who is asking for my help.

edit: "Not All Passports are Created Equal"


  1. i lived in mexico for a while, and experienced similar feelings. what a great post! thanks for sharing. xoxo

    1. glad you can relate -- they're weird/sometimes difficult feelings to process. what did you do in mexico?


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