I have been listening to the audiobook Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea for the past week or so. North Korea has been to me, as to probably most of you, an intriguing black hole that is somehow inhabited. What goes on in there I could only speculate, as many others, so I sought for insight through this book. I did not know what I was enlisting for when I started. As it turns out, the book itself highlight to me issues that are not only unique to North Korea but to most countries. I can only speak from my perspective of how I see things as someone living in the US, but what I have observed is what I write about below.
Just as in different parts of North Korea, we live in a world with a huge discrepancy in resources available to one country vs. others. Just take a moment to appreciate what is happening at a global scale. While in the United States and other developed countries we are focusing a great deal of effort into determining what the solution to an obesity crisis would be, there are still countries in which coming across a plate of food is a miracle, a rarity not to be afforded by many. We’ve all heard about this. Someone, at some point or another, has told each of us about the starving children and families, the communities plagued by insects and sickness they can’t control or fight, the mothers exposed to dangerous bacteria and germs due to a lack of access to clean water. We have heard these things, yet we are relatively unmoved. We look the other way and think that someone else, someone out there in the world, will think about such issues. That somehow, rather than getting involved and contributing to the solution, we should just stay at home, watch the big game on TV, or simply have a nice night of prayer and calmness. And while we do all of this, there’s a young child who’s hunger is tearing him apart with pain and suffering, and who’s mother is too weak to even fathom venturing into the wild and trying to find grass to feed anyone. And even if the mother is able to go and find something “edible”, it would rarely reach the 500 calories a person is estimated to requires per day to survive. I say survive because with 500 calories in a day we would not be able to exert our bodies to any extent without fainting.
We observe this tragedy or learn about it, and we move on. We hear the statistics about the millions without food and we turn away. We think that given the massive scale of the situation, there is nothing we can do to solve the entire problem. And instead of contributing a little bit to the solution by contributing to feeding 10 starving people, we decide that it’s better to look away and focus our attention on something else. And that is where we need to stop and reflect. This is when I want to give a shout out to everyone. Because I can’t understand at what point we decided that it is OK to forget about human beings that are dying for no good reason, while we instead argue about whether I should pay an extra $10 in taxes or whether you are wrong for not believing that a particular religion is correct. We create these “pressing matters” in our heads of things we deeply care about, these games with society that we play each day of arguing and thinking we are better than others given our amazing reasoning skills and arguments, yet the humane part of us is buried deeper and deeper within us and we fail to see how much is not only hurting others, but ourselves.
I would argue that most of us are adjusting to an age of so much change and a hectic pace that we fail to take enough time to sit and reflect. To realize that in our rush to do things, in our rush to accomplish what we think we should be accomplishing, we are missing the point of life, the point of being alive. We want to have a life with purpose, yet we fail to see that if we can simply help one human being in need to survive and move on with their lives, that by itself is more admirable than sitting at home mindlessly watching a TV show of no real importance or contribution. Isn’t that purpose enough for your life? The notion of a superhero that can single-handedly bring a solution to the world problems has infested our minds and we need to let it go. We need to realize that the outcome of anything in this world is only going to be the sum of the parts, the cumulative actions of all beings, and all we can do is to contribute in our own little way to make sure that our little contribution is adding to the improvement of the world, not simply keeping in neutral or take away from it. We can continue to strive for more, but can’t overlook the importance of working harmoniously with others and make our contribution, as small as it may be, to fix the problem.
Although the book Nothing to Envy first spoke to me about an intriguing political system in North Korea, what the book truly highlighted to me is the madness of the world. While some starve, the world I have observed is one in which we think that accumulating material items or focusing on ourselves will yield happiness. Time is slowly proving to us that this is not true, we are growing wealthier, but not happier. We are growing wealthier and, in general, getting stressed, overweight, rushing through life and never stopping to be in the moment and actually appreciate what is going on. From what I understand, the people of North Korea need help, lots of help. And they are not alone. We may be limited in the aid we are able to give to North Korea given the tight control the government has, but that’s only assuming that things remain as they currently are. There are always solutions, we just need to find them and contribute our own little piece. And even if North Korea remains the way it currently is, what can we do to help the rest of the world in need? We don’t need to deprive ourselves of all things to give it to others, that’s not what I’m suggesting, but let’s at least think about these problems and contribute our 2 cents to the solution of it. That is how the world will become a better place. When we share love, compassion, and our wealth, the need for division and war starts fading away and we end up with a happier world with less undue suffering.