This morning a post on the Dave Ramsey blog made it into my Facebook feed. The title, “Who’s Rich in America?” It was a compilation of readers thoughts on this exact question. Yesterday, I read the Frugalwoods post “The Privilege of Pursing Financial Independence.”
Something has been bothering me for some time, but these posts have boiled it up inside me. I have to let it out.
Wearing My “American” Label
I think the more I learn and experience in this world and my little American eyes are opened up. The more I want to retreat back to my little American refuge. A place where I feel sheltered from some of the world’s harsh realities.
Please do not get me wrong. This world that I have been so blessed to experience is absolutely beautiful. There is “good” in this world and I see it around me every single day. I know our experience of living in a “foreign” country and traveling Europe has been absolutely a blessing.
However, as with most blessings, it has been really tough some days. It has been tough to live and experience our life of “privilege” while I know there are people who are starving and being tortured from what seems like just a stone’s throw away from my front door.
I know there are Americans who go hungry,who are abused and are in horrible, terrifying situations. But even the poorest Americans are among some of the richest people of the world. The U.S. poverty level for a single American has an annual income of $11,770. I could not imagine how difficult it would be to live on this income. Yet, even at this poverty rate, you would still be among the top 14% richest people in the world.
Third World Countries
My husband has been to several Third World Countries and at times he has tried to express to me how life truly is in these places. He has tried to share how privileged he felt when he returned home and had running water in the same building where he laid his head to sleep. He has tried to describe the living conditions of the “locals” and the severe condition of schools where children not only struggle to learn, but to feel safe.
Although, I desperately wanted and still want to completely understand what my husband has experienced in these third world countries. I can not. The more I experience in life, the more I realize how little I know.
In my two years in Europe, I have experienced things in “developed” countries that I never thought I would experience here. My pre-conception of other “developed” countries was that of course they have everything the U.S. does, surely, right? The technology, the living standards, fresh drinkable water, in-door plumbing, equal opportunities, the passion and ambition to know you have an opportunity to make your life better because you were blessed to live in a free country. However, I have learned even for those who were blessed to live in “developed countries” this is not always the case.
I have seen and experienced living conditions in Europe, in developed countries, that would not be tolerated in the poorest neighborhoods in the U.S. There have been times when I literally felt what I assume it would feel like to experience a truly “poor” country.
It has been these experiences that have made me question whether my heart and soul could really “survive” even a mission trip into a third world country. Although it will remain on my “some day” wish list.
I am not sharing this with you today to make any of us feel guilty or to try to even make you understand my experience. Honestly, just as I can not understand a third world country through my husband’s experience, you probably can not understand my experience until you live through something similar yourself.
I wanted to share this part of my experience because at times writing about how to save money, becoming debt free, saving for retirement or any other topic seems so trivial compared to some of the issues people are facing day in and day out.
I have been struggling to find topics that “matter” and will “make a difference” when comparing them to some of the severe and horrible conditions in the world. I believe I have struggled, because this issue has been placed so heavily on my heart.
Although, recently I have experienced an epiphany. These topics of personal finance, DO MATTER! For those of us who have been born into “privileged” countries, we need to recognize our blessings and opportunities. Achieving financial security and financial independence is important because once we take care of our own families there is plenty left over to take care of those who are struggling.
I write this because I want us all to remember that this journey is about MORE than you or me. It is about MORE than our families. We have the opportunity to change the world around us. One act of kindness, one donation, one mission trip at a time. This is why writing posts, encouraging others to pursue financial responsibility and financial independence IS IMPORTANT!!!
Are You Rich?
Chances are if you are reading this message, you can undoubtedly say YES! You have had access to an education and therefore you can read. You have access to technology and internet, a luxury that I assume would only happen if you had your basic survival requirements (food, shelter, safety) met. You are beyond rich in blessings. So YES, you are among the richest in the world. We have the privilege of living in countries full of opportunity, let us take those blessings and opportunities to bless others.