Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Why the little things are important

By Dave Coffey

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As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday and a break from work and studies, I realize it is easy to breeze over this welcomed vacation on “autopilot,” so to speak.  Don’t worry – I won’t trod out the cliché preaching’s that Thanksgiving means, at its core, “giving thanks,” and that we should all remember that.  I’m well aware most people will indeed give thanks over this long weekend, whether it’s thanks for reuniting with family and friends, enjoying a hot meal outside of a dining common or taking a long-awaited break from studying.  I will, however, recommend that if given the chance, one should take a few moments to ponder the priorities of one’s own gratefulness. 

As I said, it’s easy to forget or “autopilot” over some things we should all truly give thanks for.  Once again, at the risk of sounding too preachy, I turn the reader’s attention to the world just outside of our own reference frame.  As of data collected in 2008 by the World Bank, around half of the world’s population, over three billion people, lives on less than $2.50 a day.  Isn’t that nearly unfathomable when one really considers it? Four-fifths of the world subsist daily on food, water, shelter, health, transportation and other survival costs that amount to less than the monetary value of a Starbucks visit for most of the people who read this paper. 

This is one of many statistics that simply turn my own perceptions on their head.  As much as it’s been said over and over again, we take so much for granted every day, and Turkey Day is no exception.  Every time we wash our hands, we take for granted that over a billion people worldwide have inadequate access to water, while over two and a half billion people lack basic sanitation (2006 United Nations Human Development Report).  Every time we bemoan waking up for an 8 a.m. lecture, we take for granted that 121 million children worldwide are lacking even basic education, according to a 2005 report by UNICEF. And even as we read the daily newspaper, we take for granted that around a billion people entered the 21st century unable to even read a book or write their names. 

I say, “We take for granted” because I do it just as much as anyone else.  Like I said, it’s very easy to overlook how lucky we truly are to have even basic elements of our everyday lives, considering that these basic elements contribute perhaps the most to our everyday lives.  When we are separated physically, symbolically and culturally from those that arguably suffer the most, semantic externalism sets in.  Their being a world away almost makes it seem as if the world they suffer in is a different world than ours; we can consciously know and be informed about it, but subconsciously, it’s almost like sad fiction. 

But this perception does not alter the grim reality that 25,000 children under the age of six die each day (or 3.5 every second) from extreme poverty conditions, according to  “Invisible in death,” they succumb to things such as starvation and medically preventable diseases, thoughts that would never even cross the mind of an average first-world citizen. 

The purpose of this writing is not to “guilt-trip” those who read it.  No, guilt stops and prevents action.  First of all, I write this challenging everyone who reads it to consciously feel grateful the next time they turn their lights on or sign their paycheck or visit the doctor.  It is these basic privileges – electricity, literacy, medical treatment and even the ability to voice our opinions in collegiate newspapers – that we should take the time to give thanks for. 

Secondly, I write this challenging everyone who reads it to go one step further beyond gratefulness: do something.  It could be almost anything; that is, anything that somehow contributes, either on a small or large scale, to helping someone who needs it.  Just as it’s easy to take for granted what we have, it’s easy to take for granted how much even a little can help.  According to the 1997 State of the World Report, less than one percent of the money the world spent annually on weapons could have potentially put every child in the world in school.  In many cases, it is not a matter of not being able to; it’s a matter of simply not doing it.  But, as the prior statistic indicates, comparatively small measures can have resonating effects. 

There are hundreds of charities and organizations that aid developing countries where extreme poverty runs rampant: such as Doctors Without Borders, OxFam International and Aid2Africa, to name only a few.  Most, if not all of them, would say that even a donation of a few dollars could be life altering for a victim of extreme poverty.  For example, a $10 mosquito net provides African children protection from malaria, a disease that claims a million lives a year in mostly underdeveloped countries (African children making up 80% of that number according to the 2007 Human Development Report). 

There’s plenty of ways to help out people who are down on their luck in our own backyard as well.  Most towns and cities have soup kitchens, food drives and local charity events that are typically most active around the holidays.  There is no shortage of simple, easy ways to help out people in need.  Personally, I’m signed up on the ONE Campaign mailing list, which I highly recommend.  Through it, one can receive newsletters and updates regarding aid programs and events concerning extreme poverty in Africa, as well as opportunities to sign petitions asking local and national political actors to back aid packages for needy countries and peoples. 

In the end, most people who will read this article have more to be thankful for everyday than they ever truly acknowledge.  In many cases, it only takes a few moments to stop and be grateful for some very basic elements of our lives that we realistically wouldn’t have if we were born almost anywhere else on earth.  Similarly, it only takes a few moments to provide someone with something that they can truly be thankful for as well.  At the risk of sounding like a 40-year-old new-age hippy, Bono was right when he sang, “We get to carry each other.”  And that is something to give thanks for.

Dave Coffey is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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