Plans, People, and Privilege

Disclaimer: This post is from the archives, and may not represent the current views of the author. It also may not be at all interesting to read. Continue at your own peril!

I don’t have a lot to say today. I have other stuff I need to be doing, so I’ll try my best to keep it short. But I’ve been thinking a bit more about moral obligations, helping the poor, and making a more just society. It’s been causing me to think about what I want to do after graduation. My plan for the past little while has been to go to graduate school for social psychology, with the eventual plan of getting into psychological research, most likely at a university. That’s what I’ve been telling people for the past little while, but primarily just because I hated not having an answer to the question of, “So what do you want to do after school?” I mean, I like psychology, and I like research, and I think I would enjoy it, but I think I would enjoy plenty of other things as well.

So the past few days I’ve been mulling over in my mind some things that might change my plans. In particular, I want to find a job that directly helps people. That’s the reason I went into psychology in the first place – to get into counselling or clinical psychology, in order to diagnose problems and give advice, etc. Through my time at university, I changed my focus to be more on research, because I found that more enjoyable. But now I get the feeling that I may not be satisfied with a job where I don’t help people in some way. I mean, psychological research does help people indirectly – very indirectly. But I want to find a way to get right into the midst of things and help others where they’re at. Beyond that, though, I’m not really sure what to do. I could potentially take on a job in research and then volunteer elsewhere. That’s an option. The other option is to go and volunteer somewhere, perhaps do some overseas work, for a little while after graduation, before going onto grad school. I don’t know. But it’s something I need to think about a bit more.

I do have one final thing to mention about this, though. I watched Schindler’s List last night, a movie which I have watched before and definitely enjoyed. It’s one of the few movies that really gets me emotional – and even moreso because it’s a true story. Schindler originally is a businessman who takes advantage of the Second World War and the increasing hostilities against the Jews to get cheap labour for his factory. He sees the Jews as a way to profit, but refuses to get emotionally involved. However, over the course of the movie, there is a clear character progression where he realizes that the humanity of these people are being taken away from them. So, he hatches a plan to buy almost 1100 Jews to save them from extermination. He uses the profits from his business to do so, and essentially ends up broke. Near the end of the movie, the war comes to an end, and Schindler, still a member of the Nazi party, has to flee. He says goodbye to the crowd of people he has rescued, and as he shakes the hand of his dear Jewish friend and associate, he breaks down in tears. He breaks down because he realizes that all the money he wasted – all the cars, the suits, the luxurious parties and fine wines – could have been used to save more people. At the climax of the movie, he realizes that the money he spent or saved directly affected the lives of other human beings. He spent money on useless nothings that could have saved the lives of a real person. And so, though he saved so many, his cry of desperation is that it “wasn’t enough.”

There is an important lesson there, because what was true in 1945 is still true today. The choices we make about our money, our time, and our possessions still translate to a direct impact on the survival of others. The money we spend on electronics, on clothing, on extra-long showers, on entertainment – all of these could be spent saving people’s lives. Real people. Real human beings. And I can’t get over that. I want to live a modest lifestyle so that I spend my money responsibly, realizing that the money I have is not truly the result of my hard work, but the result of my privileged position in society. I am a white male in North America, but I did not earn that status. I live like a king in comparison to the rest of the world. And I need to always remain mindful of that fact. I do not want to live in luxury that is borne on the backs of the poor. The money I spend on frivolous things could be spent to ensure someone is able to eat tomorrow.

So regardless of what I do after graduation – whether I go into research or go into an area where I can help in tangible ways – I want to live conscious of my privileged position. I want to live a modest lifestyle so that others can live at all. I think that is the only morally responsible thing to do, and I want to always be ready to take on that responsibility and live it well. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

8 responses to “Plans, People, and Privilege”

Cori-Beth

How true your statements are in this posting! We live like there is a money tree in the backyard with an unlimited supply of cash, when in reality the money tree doesn't exist…or has died! We aren't as money conscious as we need to be in North America. We live in an age were it's me me me instead of how can I help someone else today. It doesn't necessarily mean money, but possibly our time. We spend so much time, to put it in a money aspect, on shopping and getting things that we don't need. Do we really need that $5 coffee? Are we to stuck up to not make a coffee at home or even get a $2 coffee instead and put that $3 to something else? That's just a small example. And I'm not getting into caffeine addiction. That's besides the point.

I think we need to focus more on how we make an impact on others, directly or indirectly rather than focusing on ourselves all the time. Think before we buy! Do we need that 32" flat screen tv? Or do we want it to fit the status quo?

Well, my 2 cents. Great blog post, Jeff! You have voiced what others, including me, have been thinking and need to think about.

Corinne

feeno

For not having a lot to say, you sure said a lot.

I guess I will just agree with CB.

Although it would be hard to disagree with anything you said I do have one question. (This has nothing to do with religion or faith). But a "modest lifestyle" is a relative term. Some people may think your modest lifestyle is still very extravagant. So would it be up to you to decide what is modest?

Again, like CB said, we should all be more like that. And if more people were like you, this world would be a much nicer place to live in.

later, feeno

Jeff

Thanks as always for your comments, guys!

Corinne,

It's definitely true. It's strange how sometimes those little luxuries, like coffee in the morning, turn into "necessities" simply because we buy them on a regular basis. I saw a stat a while back that said that, essentially, the amount that North America spends on cosmetic products would have been enough to provide basic literacy to everyone. Or something like that (I can't remember it fully, it was a while ago). These sorts of things definitely add up, and if we just cut them back or cut them out, we'd save ourselves money and also have much more to give to help others.

Anyway, good thoughts. Thanks!

Feeno,

That's a good question. I can't say that I gave that much thought, but it definitely deserves some. But I'm not sure that there would necessarily be one ultimate standard of "modestness" that everyone would follow. I think that ultimately it comes down to the fact that all of us middle/upper class people are living with far more luxuries than we need to, and no matter what level we are at, we can all scale back. How about if I just say that I think people should live more modestly than they already are, and leave it at that? Lol alright so that's not really much of an answer…but it was a good question 🙂

JD Curtis

Related to what you wrote Cori-Beth, my wife was watching a reality TV show re:wedding planners. The particular couple I saw blew close to quarter million on their freakin' wedding. Could you imagine how many tents that would buy to cover some poor Haitian who has nothing? Unthinking imbeciles.

Jeff

Hmm, yeah that's pretty bad. Obviously, everyone wants their "special day" to be wonderful, but unfortunately too many people think wonderful = expensive. Imagine what a wonderful wedding it would be if they asked their guests to donate money to a charity instead of giving wedding presents!

feeno

This is actually a very tough issue. And I'm not sure there is even an answer? How much is enough? or How little is to little?

I've done tile work in some really expensive houses. The most expensive was built for around 6 million dollars. Could they have been happy in one that cost 5 million? Or could they have spent 8 million and decided to down size for whatever reason? If they donated 5 million to the poor, does that make it OK? Or is it even anybodies business. If he earns enough money to pay for it, why should he be penalized not to enjoy the fruit of his/her labor?

Just so you know, I can't answer these questions. A 15 million dollar house seems absurd. But if your Warren Buffet and you lived in a 15 million dollar house, you'd be living in the low rent district.

And when my daughters get married and I have to pay for the weddings and put a budget on it at $10,000 does that make me a tight ass or a generous giver?

Maybe they will elope and I wont have to worry about it?

Out, feeno

Jeff

Feeno, those are some excellent questions – and tough ones! But if I can point out one thing: you said "If he earns enough money to pay for it, why should he be penalized not to enjoy the fruit of his/her labor?"

In a world where everyone has equal opportunity, this is perfectly alright. Like the American dream, everyone is free to build up wealth for themselves through their own hard work. And anyone who doesn't work, deserves the poverty they live in.

However, we don't live in a world of equal opportunity. We live in a world where a person, through no fault of their own, happens to be born in a country where they will never have the opportunity to even make enough to survive. And we live in a world where someone else happens to be born in a country and a family where either a) they are rich without working hard at all, or b) they are actually able to support themselves by working hard.

We as humans place a great value on fairness. When we help others, it's usually because of some misfortune that has fallen upon them – like a hurricane or an earthquake, for example. Being born in a poverty-stricken country is just another misfortune, and so the person who "enjoys the fruits of his labour" must still realize that, in reality, the wealth he has is largely not a result of his labour, but rather a result of being lucky enough to be born in the "right" country. Thus, in essence, his money is not his after all. It belongs to all those who never had the chance to begin with.

So it's not about being "penalized"…it's about a recognition of what is due to our actual hard work and what is due to the misfortune of others. Not that their misfortune is our fault necessarily (although I could argue that some of it definitely is), but it is the recognition that, if the playing field were even, the money in our pocket would really be theirs. Giving them aid is really just giving their money back to them.

Anyway, I don't say any of that authoritatively, but it's my current thoughts on the matter.

Cheers,
Jeff

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