This is a long over due post about my trip to Liberia almost a year ago.
This tiny country of Liberia has shed light on many of the contemporary issues of our time. I remembered watching a documentary about Liberia and learning about some very nasty things that have happened in the past. I remembered being so angry at some of the things that the U.S. had done—or had not done—simply to look after its own interests. This supposed “best country in the world” has, at best, a tainted past. I bring this up not to create friction, but to shed light on the fact that nobody is perfect. It is easy to ignore things we are not proud of and claim that the modus operandi works, because it does not. The current way of life, based upon the pursuit of GDP, wealth and fame, is creating immense unhappiness and lost souls. There needs to be a new way of doing things. We can no longer make everyone conform to a single construct.
The people in Liberia live with whatever they can afford, sometimes less than the necessities. Some did not have potable water, and some only had a few sets of clothing. In the month we were there, we saw about 10 students who got sick, about half of whom had malaria and another half had typhoid. Our well water supply was visibly tainted with an orange substance, most likely due to the rust. Although we had the privilege of using bottled mineral water, some of the students there brushed their teeth, drank and showered with that water.
Yet, the students we met there seemed happy. Although they just came out of a civil war, they were content with their lives and were determined to effect positive change in their country in the future. They hung out with their friends and families, and that gave them happiness. We do not need all the possessions that we desire to be truly. Happiness is not about extravagance, fame or excess. It is about relationships, passion, wisdom, and so much more.
We owe our ability to live comfortably in large part due to the newly minted wealth passed to us from our parents’ generation. My friends and I speak about the intergenerational shift from a time where we work to make ends meet to a time where we work to discover meaning in our lives. It is indeed a fascinating transformation for with wealth comes both privilege and responsibility: privilege to be able to identify and ponder issues that our wealth shelters us from, and responsibility to ensure that we act on those issues. I remembered the time when I was in Liberia and saw how people simply had to make ends meet each and every day. There was no other option. Survival was the priority. While I was there, I started thinking about why I work on sustainability. It seemed as if sustainability was a first world problem! I was privileged to be able to care about sustainability actively. I thought about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and where I stood on the pyramid. Not everyone was at the apex, and that is why I do my work—to get everyone to the top. Whether you believe in Maslow’s Hierarchy is, to me, secondary. The argument I am trying to make here is that many of us have privileged identities without knowing so, because that is how privilege works; it does not bother you. But there comes a point when you realize that these issues are worth thinking about, and there comes a point when you realize that justice has to be fought for.